United in their grief and with a shared sense of fury, a procession of bereaved men and women marched to Downing Street to deliver a petition demanding that the National COVID Memorial Wall by the River Thames be kept for good.
Each person who spoke of the loss of a loved one also described their disbelief at how the politicians and their staff partied as they were denied the chance to be with their relatives in their final hours.
It comes as Tory ministers were heckled by bereaved families of COVID victims, shouting “off to another party are we?” as they attended a dinner held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a luxury central London hotel on Tuesday night.
Larry Byrne fought back tears as he talked about his father, also called Larry, who died in April 2020.
“When I hear what happened in Number 10 Downing Street… I feel speechless,” he said.
“To hear what went on, all the cover-ups, and to think I couldn’t be with my father when he died, it just beggars belief.”
‘They were having parties and my dad was alone in hospital dying’
It’s a year since the first red heart was drawn upon the wall between Lambeth and Westminster bridges. Now there are tens of thousands, each representing a life lost to the virus.
Alison Weetman and her daughter Abbie were among those who gathered there as the hauntingly beautiful sound of a choir echoed along the wall in a multi-faith service of remembrance.
“I don’t think I can ever get over this,” said Alison, whose father Clement Abbott died at the start of the pandemic.
“We couldn’t go and see my dad, and they were having parties and my dad was alone in hospital dying.
“These are people who were appointed to lead our country. It’s extremely disrespectful.”
There are so many similar stories.
‘They were partying when we were terrified, we were hurting’
Diane Devine and her sister Patricia McCarron had to watch their mother’s funeral service on a laptop due to COVID restrictions.
To Diane, the prime minister is “a disgrace”.
“It was so disrespectful. They were partying when we were terrified, we were hurting – there’s no words to describe the anger you felt for them,” she said.
They’d travelled down from Glasgow to the memorial wall and had met up Shamsa Siqqiqui, who’d also lost her mother.
After seeing a post on a Facebook group for bereaved relatives last year, Shamsa drew a heart upon the wall for the sisters when restrictions meant they were unable to come to London themselves. Now they have a powerful bond.
Shamsa described how she cried when she first heard about the partying in Downing Street.
“It’s disgusting, absolutely disgusting, and unacceptable,” she said. “We were all in our homes doing what the government told us.
“I couldn’t see my mum in the hospital. She died on her own, and they were having parties. It’s not right.”
Monica Mirzynska is another who wants the wall, which overlooks parliament, to become permanent and powerful reminder of the sacrifices made.
“I have made friends due to the wall,” she said.
“They are the only people that understand you have lost someone very dear to you.
“I did a funeral on my own. I abided by the rules, staying at home, not seeing family. To think at that time they were having parties…”