Blog: Day 1 of the Infected Blood Inquiry Preliminary Hearings

Today (Monday 24th September 2018), members of The Hepatitis C Trust, represented by Rachel Halford CEO and Samantha May, Head of Support Services, were present at the commemoration and opening event at Church House in Westminster that marked the preliminary hearings for the Infected Blood Inquiry. This major Inquiry aims finally to investigate how so many people with haemophilia and other conditions were given blood products or received transfusions infected by HIV and hepatitis C, mainly in the late 1970s and 1980s and the resulting consequences.

The morning opened with a picture montage of victims and their families, followed by an introductory presentation titled: “This is What We Know”. The statement confirmed that almost 3,000 people are known to have died from infected blood products and this number is set to keep rising. Then, we heard in the form of short film stories from various infected people and their families, how individuals first contracted viruses from blood transfusions, how they were informed and the emotional impact it had on their lives and those near to them. The film powerfully came to a close with the hopes people have for the upcoming Inquiry, and one common theme repeats itself: “justice and closure”.

The morning was brought to a close with poetry and song. The choir sang as those in the audience stood up to place memories and messages carried in bottles that were placed on a medical-like laboratory shelf at the centre of the conference room.

The afternoon consisted of opening statements from the Inquiry Chair, Sir Brian Langstaff, and Jenni Richards QC, Counsel to the Inquiry. Sir Brian promised “to put people at the heart of this Inquiry”. The Infected Blood Inquiry is a UK-wide Statutory Inquiry, and it will be as open and transparent as the law will allow. He also mentioned that the purpose of the preliminary hearings is above all to listen. The Inquiry has been set up to benefit people and provide answers to those infected and affected, and of course, to provide recommendations for the future. The public present was also assured that the Inquiry will be providing access to counsellors to provide emotional support to those who need it.

Jenni Richards QC, in her statement, outlined the Terms of Reference for the Infected Blood Inquiry. She outlined the scale of the Inquiry: listing all those involved as core participants (including The Hepatitis C Trust), estimating a total of 2,000 statements to come forward from witnesses, as well as information to be provided by expert opinion. Jenni Richards QC confirmed that government ministers, senior politicians, policy makers and civil servants will also be questioned.

Both Sir Brian Langstaff and Jenni Richards QC outlined the timeframe for the Inquiry. In their words, this might be the “last chance for answers”. It is important to start questioning witnesses as soon as possible, but equally a balance needs to be struck to achieve thoroughness in the approach to the many complexities of the Inquiry. It is anticipated that the Inquiry will start hearing evidence on the 30th April 2019, and will hear directly from relevant government bodies, the NHS, and pharmaceutical companies by October 2019 at the latest.

The next two days (Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th September) will hold preliminary hearings featuring opening statements from core participants and their legal representatives.