THE new chair of Scotland’s official Covid inquiry has been announced by John Swinney.

The deputy First Minister told MSPs that the judge Lord Brailsford would take over tomorrow.

He also announced a change to the terms of reference so that it took a human rights-based approach.

Mr Swinney said he was confident that Lord Brailsford would act with "sensitivity, empathy and compassion", and would soon meet with the bereaved families of Covid victims.

It follows the sudden resignation of the original chair, Lady Poole, in early October after just 10 months in the role.

Lady Poole stood down citing “personal reasons”.

However it then emerged four of the inquiry’s counsel had quit the day before she resigned, suggesting tensions and disagreements behind the scenes.

Mr Swinney said: "The Scottish Government wants the Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry to be delivered at speed and to address the range of questions that people have – the bereaved, in particular – so that we can learn lessons and benefit from them as early as possible.

"That is why arrangements for identifying a new judicial Chair for the Inquiry have been taken forward urgently to ensure a swift and successful transition. 

“From my own and the First Minister’s interactions with Lord Brailsford, I am in no doubt that he has the necessary leadership skills, integrity and experience to continue the work of this Inquiry. 

“I am grateful to Lady Poole for the important work she has undertaken since the establishment of this Inquiry. I thank Lady Poole for her work and wish her well.” 

In response to MSPs' questions, Mr Swinney said he did not know if any of the four counsel who quit had signed non-disclosure agreements or received pay-offs when they left.

He also said it would not be right for him to know as it was a matter for the Inquiry.

The deputy FM also failed to say what delay the inquiry might now experience as a result of Lady Poole's departure and the need to find a replacement.

He said it would be for Lord Brailsford to decide whether the inquiry looked at Long Covid. 

Lord Brailsford said:  “I am honoured to have been appointed as the independent Chair of the Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry.

"The pandemic impacted everyone across the country to some degree.

"There is barely a family, business or organisation that wasn’t affected in some way.

"This Inquiry seeks to find out whether anything could or even should have be done differently and what lessons can be learned for the future.

“The public are rightly looking for answers and no more so than the loved ones of the nearly 16,000 people in Scotland who died during this pandemic.

"I am immensely aware of the enormous responsibility this places on me and the Inquiry.

"I promise the families, that along with the Inquiry team, I will work independently to establish the facts and ensure the Inquiry thoroughly examines the decisions taken throughout the pandemic.”

Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: "This statement still leaves many critical questions unanswered in relation to the Covid inquiry.

“While the appointment of a new chair is a step forward, there is still a lack of a clear commitment from the Deputy First Minister over just how long this inquiry will go on for.

“We’ve seen costs spiral out of control and intolerable delays on other crucial inquiries including the Edinburgh Tram inquiry and that simply cannot happen here. Grieving families must get the truth about what went wrong and get the answers they deserve. 

“This inquiry must now proceed at speed under new stewardship and deliver the truth for those who are still grieving the loss of loved ones due to grave errors made during the pandemic.”

The inquiry, which is expected to last several years, is already running behind the similar UK-level inquiry chaired by Baroness Hallett, which opened on October 4.

The Scottish inquiry has 12 strands, each covering a strategic element of the handling of the pandemic “to identify lessons to be learned and recommendations as soon as practicable”.

Established under the Inquiries Act 2005, it will cover the period from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2022, but it will also consider pandemic planning undertaken prior to this.