Families to share stories as the Infected Blood Inquiry comes to Leeds

Families still suffering decades on from what has been dubbed the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS will begin to share their stories in Yorkshire as the latest phase of an inquiry gets under way.

The Crowne Plaza in Leeds, where the Infected Blood Inquiry will take place this week and next. Picture: Tony Johnson.
The Crowne Plaza in Leeds, where the Infected Blood Inquiry will take place this week and next. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Public hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry are due to restart tomorrow at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Wellington Street, Leeds, which is being used as a base for those from the north of England giving evidence about the scandal.

Around 2,400 people have died after thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products between the 1970s and 1980s.

Many victims had or have haemophilia, a blood-clotting disorder, and relied on regular injections of clotting agent Factor VIII, which was made from pooling human blood plasma.

Britain was running low on supplies of Factor VIII so imported products from the US, where prison inmates and others were paid cash for giving blood.

Ilkley man Clive Smith, the Haemophilia Society's chairman of trustees, said the "stigma is still alive and kicking" decades on, and that allowing victims and their families to share personal testimony at the inquiry has been "incredibly cathartic".

He said: "People are feeling that they're being heard.

"People are actually learning about this scandal because the stigma is still enormous."

Mr Smith added that witnesses are thinking, "finally somebody cares, somebody's listening and the death of my loved one matters".

"For many people, this happened 30 years ago," he said.

"People are still losing family now, people are still dying at a rate of one person every four days.

"There has been a huge degree of bravery shown by everybody."

He added: "I attended the first week in London. It was an incredibly cathartic process for so many people."

More than 20 people are due to share their stories between tomorrow and Friday, with the inquiry continuing in Leeds between Tuesday and Friday next week.

The first witness to appear tomorrow will be John Cornes, who once had "the biggest haemophilia family in the UK", with six out of seven members infected, a number of whom have died.

Des Collins, the founder of Collins Solicitors which is representing some 1,023 of people affected, said: "I'm pleased the Infected Blood Inquiry is in Leeds for two weeks as part of its remit to cover the whole UK.

"I'm sure we will hear testimonies that illustrate the appalling extent of the contaminated blood tragedy, reflected by the scale of the inquiry."

The Infected Blood Inquiry began hearing from witnesses in April this year and has already sat at Fleetbank House in central London and in Belfast, led by former High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff.

Politicians have previously called for action over the scandal, including Hull North MP Diana Johnson, who became an "absolutely relentless" campaigner and co-chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Haemophilia and Contaminated Blood after being contacted by constituent Glenn Wilkinson in 2010.

In a column for The Guardian newspaper in July 2017, Ms Johnson said the scandal was "the worst treatment catastrophe in the history of our health service; and one of the worst peacetime disasters that has ever happened in our country".

After evidence sessions in Leeds this month, the inquiry will move to other regional hearings in Edinburgh and Cardiff in July.