An inquiry into the infected blood scandal began on Monday. Thousands of people were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after being given contaminated blood during the late 1970s and 1980s. More than 2,800 have died.
Governments knew that the blood, from the US, was unsafe but accepted it anyway. There’s even evidence that contaminated blood was deliberately given to patients to test its “infectivity”.
The scandal goes right to the top of society and to the heart of Tory governments. Former prime minister John Major could be called to give evidence after he was named in a dossier of people campaigners say have questions to answer.
The dossier also names five former Tory health secretaries – Kenneth Clarke, Virginia Bottomley, Norman Fowler, William Waldegrave and John Moore. Ten other prominent politicians are also named, many of whom held senior positions in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and Major.
Glenn was infected with Hepatitis C in 1983 when he was given a blood material called Factor VIII during a tooth extraction. He didn’t find out until 1995, and says there’s a danger that many more people don’t know they are infected.
Glenn told Socialist Worker, “I think there are going to be a lot of politicians and ex-ministers who are getting quite nervous at the minute. The likes of Kenneth Clarke – that’s who we want to see giving evidence.”
Glenn warned that the true scale of the scandal is still unknown. “I’m a haemophiliac and lots of haemophiliacs were affected,” he said. “But I feel there’s a larger story to be told.
“Potentially anybody who received blood or blood products on the NHS before 1992 could be infected. There will be thousands who are infected and don’t have a clue.”
Hepatitis C is called the “silent killer” because the symptoms, such as tiredness, can easily be overlooked.
“In the Contaminated Blood Campaign we’re finding that lots of people are now coming forward,” said Glenn. “It’s particularly women who received a transfusion after childbirth and were infected.
“Just about everyone I’ve come across is finding out too late, when they may have liver cirrhosis. People are then at higher risk of developing liver cancer.”
In announcing the inquiry last year, Theresa May posed as someone on the side of the victims. Yet governments had years to announce an inquiry. Instead they covered up the scandal.
Documents leaked last year showed that Thatcher’s government had a deliberate policy of refusing to accept any responsibility for the scandal.
Ministers also tried to limit the government’s financial liability to victims. Moore wrote a memo in November 1987 advocating a “once-and-for-all” payment to victims.
He said this would be “particularly attractive as it minimises government intervention; and would be consistent with the policy of not accepting any direct responsibility”.
The inquiry was only won by campaigning.
As Glenn explained, “My MP Diana Johnson wrote a letter signed by four opposition leaders, including the DUP, calling on Theresa May to hold an inquiry. The DUP was essentially propping the government up, so Theresa May’s position became untenable.”
There are many questions that campaigners want the inquiry to answer. “In the late 1970s Labour health minister David Owen put aside money so Britain could become self-sufficient in blood and blood products,” said Glenn.
“Labour then lost an election and Kenneth Clarke became health minister. Nobody knows what happened to all that money – we want to know where it went.
“And when David Owen tried to recover his papers relating to it, they’d gone missing. It really does stink.”
The inquiry will this week hear three days of opening statements from inquiry chair Sir Brian Langstaff, lawyers representing victims and other core participants. It is already mired in controversy.
Victims have accused ministers of breaking a promise made earlier this year to pay their legal fees. Law firm Collins Solicitors said it hadn’t received any funding from the government despite claiming thousands of pounds.
Des Collins from the firm said it had been told it will only be paid for 16 percent of the claim. “It puts us under a phenomenal amount of financial pressure and if you were going to be cynical about it, you would say that’s a deliberate ploy,” he said.
Victims have also said time restrictions have denied them the chance to tell their stories. Some lawyers have been allocated just five seconds per victim. Just seven victims will be able to speak for 15 minutes or have their statements read out.
The scandal exposes the horrifying contempt that those at the top of society have for ordinary people. It has been covered up ever since.
The Penrose Inquiry set up in 2008 looked at the scandal in Scotland. It made just one recommendation – that everyone in Scotland who had a transfusion before September 1991 be offered a test for Hepatitis C.
This inquiry must hold those responsible to account and deliver real truth and justice for all those affected.
As Glenn said, “I hope that after the inquiry has finished we’re not left in the same position as we were after Penrose – with a whitewash.
“When the Penrose report came out I went into the streets and burned it. I’m quite prepared to do the same again.”