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Infected blood victims betrayed by ‘chilling’ cover-up, inquiry finds

VICTIMS of the blood scandal were betrayed by a “subtle, pervasive and chilling” cover-up made worse by a lack of transparency by PM Rishi Sunak’s government, a long-awaited final report found today.

Patients caught HIV and hepatitis as the authorities responsible for their care “not once but repeatedly” knowingly exposed them to unacceptable risks from contaminated blood products and transfusions.

More than 30,000 people were infected from 1970 to 1991 as a result, with 3,000 so far having since died.

The infected blood inquiry report found there has been “deliberate destruction” of relevant documents and “elements of downright deception” from those in positions of trust and power following its five-year investigation.

Inquiry chairman Sir Brian Langstaff said the response of the NHS and of government showed there had been a cover-up, “not in the sense of a handful of people plotting in an orchestrated conspiracy to mislead, but in a way that was more subtle, more pervasive and more chilling in its implications.

“In this way there has been a hiding of much of the truth.”

There was a deliberate decision to destroy Department of Health files which contained material dealing with delays in the introduction of screening blood donations for hepatitis C in 1993, the report found.

“The immediate reason for destruction was human choice. Someone, for some reason, had chosen to have those documents destroyed,” Sir Brian wrote, concluding that it was “more likely than not that the authorisation to destroy the files was because the documents contained material dealing with delays in the UK to the introduction of screening of blood donations for hepatitis C, which was anticipated (or known) to be a live issue at the time.

This was almost certainly not orchestrated “from the top,” he said, adding that campaigners had at points “pieced together a much fuller understanding of what had happened than the Department of Health,” despite the “challenges of ill-health and grief.”

The report concluded that it is likely records went missing because of a “mixture of incompetence, a lack of proper systems, and the problems inherent in keeping paper records,” with the “possibility that there may have been occasions in the past when records may deliberately have been left incomplete or have been filleted remains.”

Sir Brian added that Mr Sunak’s insistence on waiting for the conclusion of the inquiry before making a final decision on redress has “perpetuated the injustice for victims,” criticising the “litany of failures” by successive governments from the early 1970s, with no action taken even as it became known that the collection of blood from prisons led to an increased risk of hepatitis transmission.

Mr Sunak’s decision to delay means “those infected and affected have felt a lack of transparency and openness characteristic of what they have had to face, and have been fighting, for nearly half a century,” the report said.

Given the known urgency, with an estimated one person dying as a result of infected blood every four days, Mr Sunak’s argument that it was “convention” to wait for the conclusion of the inquiry “does not provide a sufficient justification,” the report said.

Sir Brian also took aim at the “institutional defensiveness” in the Civil Service, which he said compounded the failures in decision-making that led to the original infections.

In the 1980s, the government decided against any form of compensation to people infected with HIV, with Lord Ken Clarke, then health minister, saying there would be no state scheme to compensate those suffering “the unavoidable adverse effects” of medical procedures.

Sir Brian attacked Lord Clarke’s “combative style” when he gave oral evidence to the inquiry, while campaigners called for an apology from the Tory former minister.

Clive Smith, chairman of The Haemophilia Society, said Lord Clarke was “patronising in the extreme” and “had clearly never met anyone with haemophilia.”

A government spokesman said: “This was an appalling tragedy that never should have happened.”

Responding to the report, PM Rishi Sunak said today was “a day of shame for the British state.”

“Today’s report shows a decade-long moral failure at the heart of our national life, from the National Health Service to the Civil Service to ministers in successive governments at every level.” 

Ministers are preparing to set out the compensation package — thought to be more than £10 billion — today.

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