I have had the honour of working with the Scottish victims of the contaminated blood scandal for well over a decade. I was with them as we fought for a public inquiry in Scotland; including the successful Judicial Review of the Lord Advocate and Scottish Ministers (https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/search-judgments/judgment?id=7ea286a6-8980-69d2-b500-ff0000d74aa7) I was with them at every step of the Penrose Inquiry as the Chair’s approach eroded their faith in the process to zero. I was there when the Penrose report was published. A report that managed to be both bloated and anaemic at the same time (http://www.penroseinquiry.org.uk/finalreport/).
I was also with the Scottish victims of the contaminated blood scandal on Monday at the commemoration and opening statements that began the UK Public Inquiry, the Infected Blood Inquiry (https://www.infectedbloodinquiry.org.uk/)
The commemoration was organised by the infected and affected; for the infected and affected. After so many years of injustice and after so many years of institutional and governmental abuse the mood of the room could have been one of great anger. Instead the mood was one of quiet dignity and steely determination to see justice. The sound of the collective silent demand for justice was deafening.
It was one of the most powerful collective acts of defiance and solidarity that I have ever witnessed.
I am proud to say that I was there. I pay tribute to everyone who was involved in the organising and taking part in the commemoration. I pay tribute to everyone infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal.
Following the commemoration the Chair to the inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff made his opening statement. And what a difference to the opening statement made by Lord Penrose at his ill-fated public inquiry.
Lord Penrose infamously began his Inquiry by saying that every penny spent on the Inquiry was a penny wasted in respect of front line NHS services. Looking back, I have to wonder if that reflects some pretty poor and questionable decisions at Scottish Government level. I begs some serious questions: why did the Scottish Government think it appropriate to use the Health Budget for the Inquiry; and what sort of pressure did they put in Lord Penrose.
In any event, his comments set the tone for the entire inquiry. An inquiry where months and years were spent almost obsessing over issues of science while the victim’s voices and stories were all but ignored. The perception created was that the victims were an irrelevant annoyance; relegated to the most peripheral of roles. This was epitomised in Lord Penrose’s bizarre refusal to attend the publication of his report; an event to which hundreds of victims from across the country travelled great distances to be present.
In complete contrast Sir Brian Langstaff hand spoke on Monday with great empathy, great understanding and with utter resolve in his mission to conduct the Inquiry without fear or favour; to fearlessly follow the evidence where it led; and to be resilient in his intention to fully investigate all terms of reference including the issue of a cover up. Most importantly, Sir Brian Langstaff was clear in his language that he would put people at the heart of the process. He showed great compassion for all of those infected and affected by the contaminated blood scandal; and he recognised the collective weight on his shoulders in respect that this was recognised by campaigners, infected and affected alike as their last chance for justice. In many ways in fact his actions spoke louder than words when he announced that the first 3 months of oral evidence and the last 3 months of oral evidence would be taken up with the very important testimony of the victims of this tragedy.
When the first day of the preliminary hearing was brought to conclusion the sense of hope and expectation in the room was palpable. It has been a very long road to get here but the victims and survivors having heard Sir Brian Langstaff and Jenni Richards, Counsel to the Inquiry believe, that they may finally have a real opportunity for justice.
There is great expectation. That heavy burden now lies on Sir Brian, the entire Inquiry team and all of the legal representatives of Core Participants, including our team at Thompsons Solicitors. It is a burden that we all recognise and take very seriously. Only time, the oral hearings and the publication of the report itself will tell if that hope placed into the hands of Sir Brian is justified. What I can say without any hesitation at this point is that the Infected Blood Inquiry feels very different to the Penrose Inquiry. The terms of reference are much wider and everything that is what is being said by the Chair is sends out the correct and appropriate message.
I, like all of the infected and affected present on Monday, have hope and faith in the process ahead.
Blog by Patrick McGuire, Partner