Blog: Day 2 of the Infected Blood Inquiry Preliminary Hearings

Day 2 (Tuesday 25th September 2018) was the first of two days where the Inquiry heard Opening Statements from core participants and their legal representatives. In this summary, we draw out some of the priorities and questions raised by legal representatives and those representing themselves through this process.

Core participants and legal representatives who spoke welcomed the Terms of Reference drawn out by the Inquiry Legal Team. This acceptance is the result of the Inquiry’s participatory manner and its inclusion of those infected and affected by contaminated blood products. Equally, however, legal representatives speaking today did not underestimate the duty the Inquiry has in fulfilling the hopes people have of finding answers to their questions and their search for justice. In the words of Aidan O’Neill QC, (instructed by Thompsons Solicitors Scotland) on behalf of 248 individual core participants, Haemophilia Scotland and the Scottish Infected Blood Forum: “I will maintain cautious optimism”. David Lock QC (instructed by Leigh Day) on behalf of 241 individual core participants’ demands, welcomed the breadth lent by the Terms of Reference and suggested that it must not be downplayed by any bureaucratic reasons that may arise.

Statements made today reminded us that this is the ‘third Inquiry’ into this disaster and perhaps the last chance to establish the truth. Aidan O’Neill QC, reminded us of the failure of the Scottish Government to participate in the Penrose Inquiry, which consequently became more concerned with expenditure than in finding truths. He made a call in his speech to the Scottish Government to apply to become a core participant. Sam Stein QC (instructed by Milners) on behalf of four individual core participants, said: “The inquiry cannot turn the clock back, but what it can do is to establish the truth.” Lloyd Williams QC (instructed by Watkins & Gunn) on behalf of 107 individual core participants, Haemophilia Northern Ireland and Haemophilia Wales, highlighted three key issues for the Inquiry: to hear the stories, to find the truth and to establish justice for those infected and affected.  

There was a general consensus today on the need to understand the roles and responsibilities of the UK Government, the Department of Health and medical professionals within the NHS. In other words, the Inquiry aims to address accountability and apportion blame amongst those who held responsibility at the time. Lack of trust may have turned into conspiracy, but naturally there has been a loss of hope over time. Participants simply need to establish what happened, know when it happened, how it happened, why it happened, and understand who was and still is involved in what happened.

Moreover, questions were raised by most legal representatives in regard to how those affected have been supported since by Government. How and what compensation will be made to those infected and the families of those affected? Why was the Government not self-sufficient in regard to blood products? Most representatives today questioned why it has taken the Government so long to launch this public inquiry. There is also an enormous concern about the apparent loss or wilful destruction of evidence and medical records. Who made these decisions to eliminate the records? Ms Hirsh, whose son was diagnosed with haemophilia as a young boy, and later died of hepatitis C, and who is representing her own case in the Inquiry, described how she believed that medical professionals and others within Government and the Department of Health were involved in what she termed “a complicity of silence” which consequently prolonged the time taken to produce safer alternatives for the public.

Legal representatives, above all, highlighted the lack of awareness patients had of the risks involved of receiving blood products. Indeed, many today described the misrepresentation of information and the lack of ability to give consent as “a death sentence”. Why were patients not informed of the health risks, and how were they made to endure years of living with HIV, hepatitis C and other viruses?

All these questions and more will continue tomorrow on the last day of the preliminary hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry.