Still no justice for UK victims of infected blood scandal after decades

More than three years after the Conservative government announced an investigation into infected blood, the families and loved ones of the thousands of people who have died are nowhere near seeing justice.

Factor VIII bottles (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The investigation was announced by then-Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May in July 2017, with opening hearings held in Westminster in late September 2018. The investigation has started collecting evidence from those infected and affected at the end of April 2019. A series of current and past surveys. Government ministers have been called to testify in recent weeks.

The tainted blood scandal caused the deaths of thousands of people in Britain and around the world after receiving blood infected with diseases in the 1970s and 1980s. The big pharmaceutical companies made huge profits from the sale of blood products, including infected blood.

According to a 2015 parliamentary report, around 7,500 people were affected in the UK. Most other sources agree that many more, up to 30,000 people, including many people with bleeding disorders, have received contaminated blood products. Among others who have suffered are those who received blood transfusions or blood after childbirth.

The suffering was widespread, with the needless deaths of so many described as a “horrible human tragedy”. Some of those who died did so as a result of multiple organ failure.

Even today, decades later, people continue to die from infected blood at an estimated rate of one every four days.

Hemophiliacs represented the majority of people affected by infected blood products in the 1970s and 1980s. Among the fatal illnesses they contracted were hepatitis C and / or HIV. According to the Hemophilia Society, nearly 5,000 people have been infected and about 3,000 have died.

Among those who died were many from Treloar’s College, a boarding school for disabled children in Hampshire, England. Dozens of children have died after the school health center gave them infected blood products such as plasma to treat their hemophilia. The investigation learned in June that of the 89 former students with hemophilia who attended school in the 1970s, only 16 of them are still alive. All were infected with hepatitis B and C, and 64 contracted HIV.

Hemophiliacs were given factor 8 products to control their bleeding. The UK started importing factor 8 products from the US because it was unable to produce enough and because it was cheaper. Unlike the UK, US authorities would pay people to donate blood. Many drug addicts and those whose health is compromised would donate for money. The process of producing factor 8 involves pooling many donations, which dramatically increased the risk of becoming infected with hepatitis C and then HIV when this infection took off in the United States.

Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government has opened the door to massive infections and deaths in an effort to save money. Everyone who lived through the 1980s remembers the government’s public information film campaign that included the warning, “AIDS: Don’t Die of Ignorance.” In 1987 every household in Britain received a leaflet warning against AIDS: “Anyone can get it, gay or straight, male or female. Already 30,000 people are infected.

Yet while this was happening, people were being injected with infected blood containing HIV.

Decades have passed since then without any person or entity being held to account for these crimes.

Two previous surveys were whitewashes. The first investigation into the tainted blood scandal was carried out by Lord Archer of Sandwell, under the Labor government of Gordon Brown. Established in 2007, it reported in 2009. Archer’s was a non-statutory investigation with no power to compel government ministers or officials who declined invitations to testify. Archer concluded that business interests had been given a higher priority than patient safety. While criticizing the slowness of the government’s response, the investigation did not assign any blame.

The Scottish National Party-led government announced an inquiry in 2008 which was not finally published until 2015. The Penrose inquiry, called under the Inquiries Act 2005, did not even collect any testimony from anyone in Westminster and concluded that the Scottish authorities at the time had done their best. Costing over £ 12million, it made only one recommendation, namely that blood tests should be offered to anyone in Scotland who received a blood transfusion before 1991 and who has not already been tested for hepatitis C! He also did not assign any blame.

Those who seek to establish the truth by searching for documents from the 1970s and 1980s come up against a brick wall. David Watters, secretary general of the Hemophilia Society from 1981 to 1993, said all records relating to the HIV crisis, including correspondence with the Ministry of Health, had been destroyed. Even the former secretary of labor for health, David Owen (1974-76) was unable to get his hands on departmental documents relating to the tainted blood event. They had been “cleaned up” to prevent the case from going to court, he was told.

The investigation into the infected blood is being led by former High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff. Its mission is “to examine the circumstances under which men, women and children treated by the National Health Services in the United Kingdom have received infected blood and blood products, in particular since 1970”.

Previous calls by activists for an investigation with the power to summon witnesses and access documents have been rejected by both the Conservative and Labor governments. However, following the launch of a civil lawsuit in 2017 by Jason Evans – whose father died of infected blood products and who heads the Factor 8 campaign – May was forced to seek an investigation with such powers. .

After his investigative testimony last week, Tory Lord Kenneth Clarke was exposed for showing “contempt” for his reluctance to answer questions during his three-session appearance. Clarke was a leading figure in Thatcher’s government (1979-1991) and that of his successor John Major (1991-1997), in which he served as Home Secretary and Chancellor. He was Minister of Health from 1982 to 1985 and Secretary of Health from 1988 to 1990.

While minister of health, Clarke issued a press release issued in September 1983 claiming that “there is no conclusive evidence that AIDS is transmitted through blood products”. During the investigation, he maintained that the statement was correct at the time. However, in May 1983, the director of the Communicable Disease Surveillance Center of England and Wales informed the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) of the death by AIDS of a hemophiliac who had received factor 8 imported from the United States.

A vital document unearthed by Evans was a letter to a voter, dated May 4, 1983, from Hugh Rossi, a minister in the Department of Health and Social Security. He said: “This is an extremely worrying situation, especially since I read in the weekend press that the disease [AIDS] is now transmitted through blood plasma that was imported from the United States.

In her testimony on July 27, Clarke blurted out her irritation over questions from lead investigating counsel, Jenni Richards QC, complaining: “Why do we have to look at such meticulous details to find out who? said what, when, when did he change his mind? “, describing the inquisition as” rather unnecessary “.

Inquiry chairman Langstaff berated Clarke for his response, but that didn’t stop him from playing down his role in the scandal. Clarke said, “I wasn’t directly responsible for all of this. I only play such a big part in the evidence because I’m … slightly better known than any of the others and the closest B-List celebrity you have.

Victims and their family members had in some cases traveled long distances to hear Clarke give her testimony and then had to put on a waiting list to participate in the investigation. Sam Stein QC, representing some of the victims, applied for leave to speak to Clarke about his behavior during the three days of questioning. Langstaff denied the request.

Commenting after Clarke finished testifying, Evans said, “We have all waited a long time to hear Clarke testify, but what we will all remember this week is not the answers or the truth, it will be the lack of full respect to all. those infected, affected and the investigation’s own legal team.

On July 29, the inquest asked Clarke if the victims should be compensated. He replied: “You cannot just pay compensation in all cases where there is no fault on the part of the doctors, there is no fault on the part of the health authority… c he is still the approach today… I think any other approach would be absolutely, absolutely impossible, you would destroy the health service.

Clarke may have displayed such contempt knowing that he would pay no political price, let alone face prosecution.

The infected blood investigation was set up under the Investigations Act 2005 enacted by Tony Blair’s Labor government. The law serves to protect the guilty since it stipulates: “A commission of inquiry does not have the mandate to rule on the civil or penal responsibility of a person and does not have the power to determine this responsibility.

In his announcement, David Lidington, Cabinet Minister in May’s government, wrung his hands, saying: “It is very important that the investigation can identify why and how this tragedy happened and provide answers to all of them. victims who have suffered so terribly and can draw lessons to be learned so that a tragedy of this magnitude can never happen again.

The investigation is not expected to end until next year or even 2023.

The infected blood investigation stands alongside other investigations of the 2005 law, including the already widely discredited and ongoing four-year investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. After 32 years and multiple inquiries, inquiries and panels, the 97 people dead and hundreds injured in the Hillsborough disaster received no justice and all those responsible got away.

All it takes is for such surveys to conclude by making a few recommendations and stating standard phrases about how everyone has learned lessons. All those affected by the infected blood scandal must demand the immediate arrest and prosecution of all those in government and corporate circles who have perpetrated and then covered up terrible crimes.

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