Belfast Telegraph

Inquiry to reveal 'ugly truth', says Northern Ireland man caught up in blood scandal

Campaigner: Simon Hamilton
Campaigner: Simon Hamilton

By Steven Alexander

A Co Antrim man who contracted hepatitis C after receiving contaminated blood transfusions has said that victims of the scandal will finally get to reveal "the ugly truth" at a public inquiry this week.

Tomorrow marks the start of witness hearings in the contaminated blood inquiry into the treatment of thousands of people in the 1970s and 80s who were given blood products infected with hepatitis viruses and HIV.

It has been described as the worst tragedy to ever hit the NHS.

Across the UK, at least 2,400 people died as a result of being treated with infected blood products during blood transfusions and other treatments, and around 5,000 people were infected with HIV and hepatitis C.

A significant percentage came from Northern Ireland and Wales. Hundreds are still living with the debilitating illnesses and health issues associated with being infected.

Simon Hamilton, chairman of Haemophilia NI, described the hearings as a further step in righting the wrongs committed against an unsuspecting community with blood disorders.

Glengormley-born Simon and his twin brother Nigel, aged in their late 50s, contracted hepatitis C after receiving contaminated blood transfusions.

Today Simon lives with cirrhosis of the liver and must be tested every six months to determine if he has cancer.

At Christmas 2017 Nigel was diagnosed with liver cancer, and later had a transplant.

The family also lost two cousins infected through transfusions.

It is estimated that 4,800 haemophiliacs received contaminated blood.

Mr Hamilton said: "Haemophilia NI has campaigned for both haemophiliacs and transfusion victims and families and welcomes the start of the public hearings so that victims can finally tell their stories and help uncover what has happened.

"The public inquiry is our last real chance to hear the ugly truth and see justice after too long.

"We have all lost friends in this disaster and this will be a moment for them."

Watkins & Gunn represents more than 300 victims in Northern Ireland and Wales, many of them core participants.

Solicitor Michael Imperato of Watkins & Gunn said: "This inquiry is the only real chance that victims will have to get to the truth and to see justice done at long last.

"The voices of all must be heard and I would urge any victim, or family of a victim, to come forward and help us tell your story. The opportunity will never come again."

The public inquiry is chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff who has vowed he would "put the people who have been infected and affected at its heart".

Witness hearings will commence in London tomorrow, with hearings in Belfast from May 21-25.

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