The timeline leading up to Liverpool's controversial Champions League match with Atletico Madrid in March has been laid out and labelled a 'scandal'.
Leading lawyer, Elkan Abrahamson, known for his work representing Hillsborough families is calling for a national inquiry into the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis.
And he wants a key part of any inquiry to look at the decision to host the March 11 match at Anfield, which saw 3,000 Madrid fans arrive in Liverpool from the virus-hit Spanish capital.
Mr Abrahamson, who is the head of major inquiries at Liverpool law firm Broudie Jackson Canter, has accused the government of failing to take its share of responsibility for the lives lost to Covid-19 – including a failure to stop mass gatherings taking place quickly enough.
Making his case in the Liverpool Echo, Mr Abrhamson has laid out the timeline of events leading up to the match, which he says highlights just how wrong the decision to allow it to go ahead was.
The lawyer also suggests that the UK government, UEFA and Liverpool Council may all have been able to stop the match – which is now being linked to rising coronavirus deaths in the city.
Speaking to the ECHO, he said: "Two weeks ago I was amongst the first people to call for a Public Inquiry into the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, a call that has since been amplified by many voices.
"Since I made that call, I’ve received a lot of correspondence from people who feel they may have suffered needlessly at the hands of this vicious disease.
"Tragically, it looks like we can now connect at least a fraction of the Covid-19 death toll to the Champions League match between Liverpool & Atlético Madrid on 11th March.
"A football match that should not have gone ahead.
"Whilst on a personal note I’m dismayed to be sat here, writing about the preventable deaths of football supporters again; from a professional point of view the timeline of events I’m about to reveal are nothing short of a scandal that has re-enforced my resolve to ensure a Public Inquiry is launched at the earliest possible opportunity."
Laying out the key dates, Mr Abrahamson said: "On 11th March 2020, Liverpool FC played Atlético Madrid at Anfield.
"There were some 52,000 fans in the stadium (and the city), including about 3,000 from Madrid.
"Two days later the football season was suspended."
"Here’s a pandemic focussed timeline leading up to that game on the 11th March:
January 23rd – Wuhan, the province where coronavirus is believed to have first transferred to humans, was closed off.
January 30th – The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a global health emergency.
February 14th – The first European death was announced in France.
March 9th – The WHO said ”All countries must aim to stop the transmission and prevent the spread of COVID 19 whether they face no cases, sporadic cases, clusters or community transmission.”
March 11th – The WHO declared Coronavirus an epidemic. And the game went ahead.
March 14th – Spain declared a state of emergency.
March 23rd – The United Kingdom Government announced lockdown.
Mr Abrahamson said the timeline of events raises three key questions:
1. Is it reasonable to link the relatively high death rate we’re now experiencing in Liverpool
to the match? In other words, have people died because of the match?
2. is this a situation that could have been foreseen?
3. If so, who had the power to stop the match?
Mr Abrahamson said that first question – whether more people died because of the match – can probably never be definitively answered.
He added: "However, surely we are bound to consider the following facts, all of which were known or reasonably foreseeable:
"The 3,000 Madrid fans were coming from a city which was at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak in Spain. About half of Spain’s 2,277 confirmed cases at the time were in Madrid.
"Spain had banned outdoor events by the time of the match. The true number of cases at the time in Spain was probably much higher (a study by Imperial College and Oxford University estimates is at 640,000)."
Can you help us keep Merseyside covered?
He added: "The Madrid fans will not have just gone to the match. They will for the most part, as fans usually do, have spent a day or two in Liverpool and mingled with locals in pubs, restaurants and hotels."
He also pointed to an analysis carried out by Edge Health, a private company that analyses data for the NHS, which predicted that Liverpool’s Champions League football match against Atletico Madrid led to an additional 41 deaths.
Mr Abrahamson also referred to comments made on the day of the game by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries, who told Boris Johnson that ‘in general those sorts of events and big gatherings are not seen to be something which is going to have a big effect."
"She did not refer to the pre-match or post-match gatherings and this seems not to have been taken into account.
"On balance it seems likely that people died needlessly as a result of the match going ahead."
When dealing with whether the outcome was forseeable or not, Mr Ebrahamson is unequivocal – it was.
He said: "The WHO was warning countries to take steps to supress the spread.
"The virus had spread through Europe and to the UK, Spain had stopped mass public sporting events and it was well known that Spain and Madrid were suffering a high rate of cases.
Follow Liam on twitter here
You can read more of his stories here
You can email him on email@example.com
You can also keep up with his stories by liking his facebook page here
Did you film a great video? Send your footage via What's App: 07831256877
Keep up to date with all the latest breaking news here
Like the ECHO Facebook page and follow @livechonews on Twitter
"Lastly, on the day of the match the WHO declared a global pandemic. The timeline I outlined above covers nearly 7 weeks.
"Given the warnings and the timescale to think and respond, not only was this predictable there was plenty of time to predict it."
The answer to the third question – of who could or should have stopped the match – is broader, according to Mr Abrahamson.
He said: "Clearly, the Government could have done. Similarly, UEFA could have pulled mthe match.
"It is also likely that Liverpool City Council under Joe Anderson had the power to stop the match on public health and safety grounds.
"Mr Anderson has now commissioned a report on whether the match led to deaths and we will see what he has to say when the report comes in.
"All this comes back to my original call. We need to know the facts, we need to challenge now and we need to give people who have needlessly suffered a voice."