We are writing to you, as when Professor Heneghan was leaving the stand on October 18th, you stated, “if there are other matters that you wish me to explore, by all means submit them in writing”. Professor Heneghan’s oral evidence lasted precisely one hour and, of the 12 points he was asked to prepare for and address, his views on the Great Barrington Declaration were discussed. This was the last issue on the list.
As we have already provided a 75-page submission, we are going to summarise some of the points and make observations on the day’s testimonies.
Firstly, we are deeply disappointed by the level of detail and tone adopted when Professor Heneghan gave evidence. In the preceding exchange with Professor Edmunds, both Mr. O’Connor and Professor Edmunds appear to have identified Professor Heneghan as a target for foul language, while the transcript mentioned someone else entirely without you intervening. Was this an arranged exchange? The text mentioned X, and Mr. O’Connor asked the witness, “does that refer to Y?” and the witness answered, “Yes”.
The tone of Mr. O’Connor’s questions was fawning and leading, but when Professor Heneghan gave evidence, the tone changed instantly and was adversarial. You had the chance to explore some of the basic scientific questions based on events. This opportunity was lost by allowing the KC to ask questions which had nothing to do with Professor Heneghan’s contribution to clarifying the contradictions, harms and uncertainty on the basis of events.
To remind you, here is the transcript of one of the exchanges:
In Professor Gupta’s evidence, she stated: “I was invited to attend with Carl Heneghan, Anders Tegnell, John Edmunds and Angela McLean. Other than John Edmunds, all invitees were broadly in favour of the ‘Swedish’ strategy outlined by Tegnell.”
So, if Professor McLean considered Heneghan a “f*****t,” why did she later agree with the approach of Professor Heneghan, the author of the Great Barrington Declaration, and that of Sweden as proposed by Dr. Anders Tegnell?
Having reviewed the WhatsApp messages, the timings of Professor McLean’s expletive (we were let into the Zoom meeting at approx. 17.35, and the profanity occurred at 17.48) suggests she was making assumptions before listening to any of Prof. Heneghan’s evidence. If, indeed, she was referring to Professor Heneghan.
She subsequently changed her mind to follow Sweden. Professor Heneghan can verify that Professor McLean supported Sweden’s approach at the end of the meeting (some two hours after the expletive). Is there not something illogical about the whole exchange worth investigating?
Professor Edmunds was further allowed to say –
Well, I mean, I had interrupted Professor Heneghan at one point because he was making some really basic epidemiological errors, the sorts of ones that we teach our students on day one, and I couldn’t let it go after a while. And so I did interrupt, and so – and that slightly put the wind out of his sails, and – so, yes.
– without being questioned as to what the errors were.
Fraser Nelson makes the following point in the Spectator:
“Every statistic is wrong.” This, surely, is the substantive point that the inquiry should have picked up upon. What statistics was he referring to? And were they wrong? But this expensive inquiry seems not to care about points of substance.
The inquiry will learn nothing if it cannot establish what factors or evidence were correctly interpreted. Therefore, for the record, we request that Professor Edmunds list the errors he referred to in his testimony.
Any further references to errors by witnesses to other witnesses should be interrogated for their veracity and informed by the evidence and allow a right of reply. For example, comparisons between modelling scenarios and real-world data make it possible to evaluate whether they correctly forecast reality. Evaluations of the poor performance of models can inform the inquiry’s lessons that need to be learnt.
This letter is not about whether witnesses should be robustly interviewed. We are concerned that the differential treatment damages public confidence in the U.K.’s Covid Inquiry and will bias the inquiry’s findings. We have received countless messages highlighting this issue:
I watched Carl Heneghan giving evidence at the Covid Inquiry. If I had any doubt this Covid Inquiry was going to be a biased exercise, I have no doubt now. He was constantly rudely interrupted with hostile questions. As ever, Prof. Heneghan remained calm and polite.
There were numerous articles written about the interaction. The Telegraph, the Mail and the Spectator are some examples. In the Telegraph, Professor Dingwall considers “Carl Heneghan’s treatment at the hands of the Covid Inquiry beggars belief”, and David Frost considers “the Covid inquiry isn’t interested in the truth about lockdown”.
We respectfully suggest that you instruct the KCs to refrain from character assassination attempts and try to investigate what happened and the scientific and public health basis for some of the decisions made as an impartial inquest should do.
We consider the WhatsApp messages and diaries should be published in full as it would allow the inquiry to dispense with the tittle-tattle and get on with the serious business of learning lessons, particularly as an increasing number of people are losing faith in the inquiry’s work.
Professor Heneghan was given the following list of topics on Tuesday October 10th that would be discussed with him as a witness.
- Professional background, qualifications and expertise.
- Testing and detection of cases.
- Test and Trace Programme.
- Understanding and interpretation of data.
- Interactions with U.K. Government decision-makers:
- Non-pharmaceutical interventions;
- Identification of the vulnerable;
- Care home neglect;
- Nosocomial infection;
- September 20th 2020 meeting with the Prime Minister.
- The Great Barrington Declaration.
The Inquiry had the opportunity to interview Professor Heneghan as one of the only experts with clinical epidemiological skills and direct health care expertise, including care home experience. However, it chose not to, and the opportunity was wasted on peripheral issues.
In his examination of Professor Heneghan’s expertise, the KC glossed over that he has twice been a top 100 NHS Clinical Leader and an NIHR Senior Investigator. In 2019, he received a Lifetime Achievement award from the University of Oxford Medical Science Division for teaching. His DPhil is rooted in clinical epidemiology, and he has also contributed to the most extensive collection of evidence on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The KC also omitted his pivotal role in the publication of antiviral reviews during the Swine Flu pandemic (see joint publications) and his role in the Covid pandemic of pointing out several epidemiological errors in the interpretation of the data.
To remind you of the science which should have been debated, we offer a list of topics:
- How was a case of Covid defined?
- How was a Covid hospital admission defined?
- How was a Covid death defined?
- Did the definitions have any impact on the perception and management of pandemic services?
- What was the point of mass testing as carried out during the pandemic?
- Were the tests used adequate and well interpreted by those responsible?
- What was done to minimise the risk to those in care homes, either residents or new intakes from ‘cleared’ hospitals?
- Why are models so central to the debate when they are mostly based on assumptions?
- Did the predictions from models reflect the following realities?
- What was the basis of the scientific evidence used in decision-making?
- What was the basis of the scientific evidence used in the models?
- Why were measures such as school closures and vaccinations aimed at those least at risk of disease and its consequences?
- Why has there been a dearth of research on the mode of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and of organised attempts to plug that gap?
- Why were the lessons of the Italian Lombardy outbreak (which peaked by March 9th 2020 without any society-wide interventions) not used to inform policy?
- Why does the inquiry continuously refer to Chinese evidence, which is of dubious generalisability to Europe?
- Why is the inquiry not exploring the collateral damage caused by the numerous restrictions?
In the pre-meeting, minutes before Professor Heneghan gave evidence, several new items of evidence were produced, giving him no time to prepare. These items of evidence were not in the report. We respectfully suggest that you instruct the KCs to stick to the evidence proposals and the proposed areas of questioning as stated in the witness preparation email. We also respectfully suggest that timekeeping be improved and distributed in a fairer way across witnesses.
In the spirit of learning lessons, we will write further on several issues discussed but would first appreciate clarification on the following points:
- Please list the mistakes that were made by Professor Heneghan, according to Professor Edmunds, so that we can respond.
- Please explain why there is a differential approach to witnesses and why the evidence submission was ignored, given the topics that Professor Heneghan was asked to prepare.
- We also request that this submission, and any future submissions, be appended to Professor Heneghan’s written submission INQ000280651 dated September 24th 2023 and placed in the public record.
Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson
October 26th 2023
Dr. Carl Heneghan is the Oxford Professor of Evidence Based Medicine and Dr. Tom Jefferson is an epidemiologist based in Rome who works with Professor Heneghan on the Cochrane Collaboration. This article was first published on their Substack, Trust The Evidence, which you can subscribe to here.
Stop Press: In a follow-up post, Heneghan and Jefferson invite readers to compare the treatment of Carl and John Edmunds in two video excerpts.