Yesterday, the Infected Blood Inquiry oral hearings started in London. After over three decades of campaigning this was the first time infected and affected people have given evidence to a UK-wide statutory Public Inquiry.
There are going to be hearings like this all over the country so that witnesses and people who wish to attend don’t have to travel too far. The London hearings are primarily hearing from people in London and the south of England. The Scottish witnesses will be giving evidence in Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Conference Centre) – 2-5 July, 8-11 July. We don’t yet know who will be selected to give oral evidence but you can register to attend the hearings on the Inquiry website. Giving evidence can be a difficult and demanding experience so it is important that the Scottish witnesses are supported with a good turnout from the community.
The Chair of the Inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, opened the hearings by saying,
“I want to acknowledge too your patience. It may have seemed a long gap between the end of the preliminary hearings and the start of these oral hearings but you have I believe understood that gathering in witness evidence from so many, identifying repositories of documents and interrogating them and making the practical arrangements which come with such a large inquiry all take time, though I have promised you that the Inquiry will be as quick as it can. This has always been accompanied by the assurance that it will be as thorough as is reasonable and I mean to keep my promise to you, whatever your perspectives on the Inquiry.”
He also reiterated the principles that he originally set out at the preliminary hearings.
- Putting people at the heart of the Inquiry.
- Being as quick as reasonable thoroughness permits.
- Paying proper respect to a person’s right to be heard.
- Being as open and transparent as is legally possible.
- Being independent of Government and frightened of no-one in the conclusions it draws and listening.
In her opening remarks the Counsel to the Inquiry, Jenni Richards QC gave an update on the progress for the Inquiry.
- 341 separate repositories of documents to be searched either electronically or manually have been identified around the UK.
- 2,400 statements from infected or affected people are expected to be made. Half have already been submitted. All statements are read by the Inquiry Chair and its top lawyers. So it isn’t too late to make a statement if you haven’t done so already.
- 12,000 electronic documents and 63 hard copy boxes of material have been delivered to the Inquiry by BPL Limited and disclosure exercises are underway in relation to a number of the pharmaceutical companies.
- 2,000,000 hard copy pages of material held by NHSBT have been reviewed. There are approximately 5.7 million pages still to search as well as material held electronically.
- 2,500,000 pages of information held by the Department of Health and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has been completed and the Inquiry is now moving on to searches of material held by them electronically.
Further searches are planned with regard to material held by the Scottish Government and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.
A very large amount of material, particularly Central Government material, is held at the National Archives. Some has already been scrutinised but in the next few weeks, a team of Inquiry searchers will be based there full time and their search of those archives is expected to take roughly six months.
This is the first of seven blocks of oral hearings running until the middle of October 2019. You can watch the Inquiry live and see previous hearings on the Infected Blood Inquiry YouTube Channel. You can also read full transcripts on the Infected Blood Inquiry website.
The Inquiry is funding a confidential support service for anyone affected by treatment with infected blood or blood products. This is run by a team from the British Red Cross who have been working with the Inquiry since September 2018. You can contact the confidential support service directly by calling 0800 458 9473 or 0203 417 0280 at these times:
- Monday between 11am and 1pm
- Wednesday between 7pm and 9pm
- Friday between 2pm and 4pm
If you prefer to call at another time, you can leave a message and the team will call you back as soon as possible, and on the same day where that is practical.
People with inherited bleeding disorders in Scotland can also be referred to the Scottish psychosocial support service; you may have heard about others talking to Grainne or Nadine. Your Centre can refer you or, if it’s more appropriate in your case, you can be referred by Haemophilia Scotland.
A lot of campaigners from all over the UK worked very hard speaking to the media about the start of the Inquiry. We expect the Scottish media to be most engaged during the Scottish oral hearings in July. However, independent campaigner Bruce Norval was interviewed on the BBC Scotland flagship news programme, The Nine (00:10:50), and our CEO, Dan Farthing-Sykes, was interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland’s Newsdrive (00:36:00).
Although the Infected Blood Inquiry itself pays for our legal representation, Haemophilia Scotland itself is receiving no funding to support out work in relation to the Inquiry. Therefore, we don’t have the resources to provide daily summaries of the hearings outside Scotland. However, those with legal representation will be kept informed by your legal team. If you haven’t appointed a legal team yet there are several firms recognised by the Inquiry. The two campaigning Scottish charities, Haemophilia Scotland and the Scottish Infected Blood Forum, and the vast majority of individual core participants in Scotland are represented by Thompsons Solicitors Scotland.
If you would like to donate to support the work of Haemophilia Scotland there a variety of ways to choose from. You can also donate towards raising a lasting memorial to those infected and the losses suffered by our community then you can donate online.