'An abuse by people supposedly there to care'

Victims of the infected blood scandal speaking at a press conference
Victims of the scandal said they had been "gaslit for generations" [BBC]

Infected blood victims say they feel "vindicated" as a long-awaited report revealed how authorities covered up the scandal and repeatedly exposed victims to unacceptable risks.

Sue Wathen, who has no idea when she was infected with hepatitis C after her blood records "disappeared", said the scandal was "an abuse by people who were supposedly there to care for us".

Andy Evans, chairman of the Tainted Blood campaign group, said: "We've been gaslit for generations and this report today brings an end to that."

Victims are calling for "meaningful redress", with compensation expected to cost up to £10 billion.

More than 30,000 people in the UK were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C after being given contaminated blood products from1970 to 1991. More than 3,000 have since died.

"It will be astonishing to anyone who reads this report that these events could have happened in the UK", Sir Brian Langstaff, the inquiry chairman, warned in his damning 2,527-page report on Monday.

Campaigners have welcomed the findings, with some saying it had brought an overriding sense of relief.

But they said the report also highlighted "systemic failures" that contributed to deaths which could have been avoided.

"To our community, that’s no surprise; we’ve known that for decades and now the country knows, and now the world knows as well," Clive Smith, the chair of Haemophilia Society, said.

Speaking at a press conference after the report was released, he added: "There was a deliberate attempt to lie and conceal.

"This was systemic, by government, civil servants and healthcare professionals."

Mr Smith said the delay meant that a lot of doctors involved in the scandal could not be prosecuted, and a lot of victims would not be able to see justice as a result.

"There are doctors out there who should have been prosecuted for manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter, doctors who were testing their patients for HIV without consent, not telling them about their infections."

Mr Evans said the delay "really is in this case, justice denied".

"This has gone on for so long now that people that were around at the time will be very hard to track down if they're even still alive," he continued.

Mr Smith said many politicians - both current and those in power at the time of the scandal - should "hang their heads in shame".

He wanted them to start acknowledging their part, and said - ahead of the prime minister's apology on Monday - that he wants many more people to come forward and say sorry.

Other victims called for a proper apology from pharmaceutical companies.

Shot of Andy Evans
"We've been gaslit for generations," said chairman of the Tainted Blood campaign group, Andy Evans. [BBC]

Among those Mr Smith criticised was Kenneth Clarke, who was health secretary from 1988 to 1990.

He was previously criticised for "misleading" the inquiry, having claimed in the past there was "no conclusive proof" that aids could be spread through blood - despite warnings of blood contamination in 1983.

"I think he owes the community an apology, not just for his time as health secretary, but for the manner and the lack of compassion and humanity he showed when he gave evidence to this inquiry," Mr Smith said.

The BBC has approached Lord Clarke for comment.

Others criticised in the report include former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major, as well as haemophiliac specialist Prof Arthur Bloom and the NHS.

Mr Smith also said it was significant that inquiry chair Sir Brian recommended that the government provide a report to parliament within 12 months explaining whether they would implement his recommendations and if not, why.

"What the chair of a public inquiry is saying to the government is ‘I don’t trust you’, and that’s what the community have been saying for decades," he said.

Mr Smith also called for an end to governments ignoring the recommendations of public inquiries, saying "that must stop today".

Victims and families stand outside Methodist Central Hall in Westminster holding photographs of their loved ones
Victims and their families react to the findings of the report on Monday [Getty Images]

Katie Walford's father, David Hatton, died in April 1998 after contracting HIV while being treated for haemophilia.

Ms Walford said as well as an apology, she wants those accountable to face "lawful consequences" for their failings, alongside compensation for victims and their families.

She previously told the BBC no money would replace the memories she could have had, but her loss needed to be recognised.

"It's the recognition of having it documented, validated worldwide and to make sure this type of thing doesn't happen again to make sure there isn't another 10-year-old out there who won't have to say goodbye to their dad too soon", Ms Walford said.

Jackie Britton, from Hampshire, contracted Hepatitis C in 1983 after receiving a blood transfusion during childbirth.

It took nearly 30 years for her to be diagnosed, after decades of ill health.

"Nobody can call us conspiracy theorists," the 62-year-old told a press conference, adding that so many people could have been saved

Calling for those responsible to be held accountable, she continued: "It vindicates my impression that the knowledge was out there, our government ignored it, couldn't be bothered with it, found it was going to be too expensive...

" I don't know what their excuses are, but this blatantly in black and white says that they have no excuses."

'We were lied to'

Former IT consultant Rosamund Cooper was diagnosed with Von Willebrand disease, a bleeding disorder, when she was eight months old, and found out at 19 that she had been infected with Hepatitis C.

She told the PA news agency: "All of my life as an infected person has been spent battling and I'm exhausted, and I feel like this finally, is somebody listening to what we've been through."

Ms Cooper said there had been a complete lack of transparency and accountability from those responsible.

"We were lied to about that - we were told it was accidental, we were told... the decisions made were the best possible at the time," she said.

"It's showing that that's not the case, and that people were covering things up, denying things, hiding things from us, which is disgraceful.

"That never needs to happen again."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a "whole-hearted and unequivocal" apology to the victims of the scandal and their families in a statement to the House of Commons on Monday.

He described the scandal as a "day of shame for the British state" and promised to pay "comprehensive compensation" to those affected and infected.