Infected Blood Inquiry told how brothers were branded ‘Aids family’
John Cornes lost three of his haemophilia-suffering brothers to HIV.
A man who lost three of his haemophilia-suffering brothers to HIV after they were given blood products as part of their treatment has told an inquiry how he and his loved ones were vilified and branded the “Aids family”.
John Cornes likened the abuse that he and his siblings endured to the treatment the Irish received in the aftermath of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974, explaining how the grave of one brother was defaced by vandals.
On Tuesday, he told the Infected Blood Inquiry that he was one of six brothers to suffer from haemophilia.
Mr Cornes, of Kings Heath, Birmingham, explained how he remembered being treated with the frozen blood product cryoprecipitate as well as Factor VIII blood-clotting products in the 1970s.
When asked what information he was given about treatments by doctors, Mr Cornes, who started attending the city’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital at the age of 15, said: “We weren’t given none.
I can totally understand the way the Irish community were affected by the bombings and it wasn't their fault, and it wasn't our fault, what happened to us John Cornes
“We didn’t ask the question. They didn’t come forward with the possibilities of how it could affect us in the future.”
Discussing the day that his brother, Gary, realised that he had HIV, Mr Cornes said: “He was sobbing his heart out.”
The inquiry heard how Gary passed away on Remembrance Sunday 1992 aged 26, leaving behind his wife, who herself died in 2000 after contracting HIV from him.
Just a month after Gary had been diagnosed with HIV, another of his brothers, Roy, was told that he too had the condition, and he also died at the age of 26 in May 1994.
He told how Roy had been a bit of a “Jack the lad”, and, between being diagnosed and his death, inadvertently infected a girl with HIV, who died before he did.
Mr Cornes said that the “press got hold of it” and “came down on the family”, saying: “In Birmingham, we were known as the scumbags, (and) the Aids family.”
He explained how vandals defaced Roy’s grave, saying that it had the word “shit” written on it and had stones thrown at it.
Likening the treatment they received to that of the Irish following Birmingham pub bombings, he said: “I can totally understand the way the Irish community were affected by the bombings and it wasn’t their fault, and it wasn’t our fault, what happened to us.”
He was giving evidence during the first day of witness hearings at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Leeds city centre.
The contaminated blood scandal has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.
Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s, and around 2,400 died.
The inquiry heard how a third brother of Mr Cornes, Gordon, was diagnosed with HIV three months after Roy, and died in December 1995.
I am here to represent not just the infected, but also the affected John Cornes
Mr Cornes said that his mother, who he described as a “big, strong woman”, suffered a heart attack and died shortly after Gordon.
He told the assembled audience: “I have got a load of nephews and nieces from the brothers who have died and I have nephews that haven’t got a mother or a father.
“So it’s affected at least 30 of my family.
“So I am here to represent not just the infected, but also the affected. I didn’t really want to do this, but there is a need.”
Mr Cornes went on to explain how he and two more of his brothers were diagnosed with hepatitis C, with one of them dying after suffering a brain haemorrhage which he said was the result of the “stress and anxiety” of the illness.
A second witness, Graham Binks, explained how his late wife Margaret, a former primary school teacher in Leeds, contracted what was described as “chronic active hepatitis”, after being given blood transfusions following the birth of their two sons in 1972 and 1974.
Explaining how having to tell his two young sons that their mother had died was “far and away the hardest thing I have had to do”, he said: “I told them that she told us to be like the Three Musketeers.
“So, I sat them on my knee and said ‘all for one, and one for all’.”
Telling how he could not be certain that the blood transfusions led directly to her diagnosis, he added: “I hadn’t expected to find myself a widower at the age of 33.
“You never, ever fully recover from the death of a partner. Even 39 years on, I’m no stranger to tears.”
During the afternoon session, Jo-Anne Cohrs explained how she lost her husband, Keith, to Aids and hepatitis C in 1987 after his haemophilia was treated with Factor VIII.
She said that her husband’s condition was revealed when, following hospital tests, they received a letter in 1984 with the words “Aids – don’t die of ignorance” franked to the front of the envelope.
Mrs Cohrs explained how she later learned that her husband had hepatitis C when she looked at a piece of documentation on his haematologist’s desk which said “non-A, non-B” on it.
She said she thought: “There’s hepatitis A, hepatitis B. What’s this non-A, non-B thing? Why don’t they call it hepatitis B? And if he has hepatitis B, could there be D, E, X, Y, Z? What else is he going to pick up?”
He died in March 1987 and Mrs Cohrs told the inquiry how, weeks after his death, a yellow bag of medical waste that was due to be picked up by the local authority remained outside their home, saying: “It was so stigmatising, so uncaring.”
She said that she had the impression that journalists had at that time looked to report the story using “innuendos” and “tit bits”, with the experience inspiring her to write a book in 1989 named Stigma: Aids Widow’s Story.
The inquiry, which is due to sit in Leeds until the end of next week, continues on Wednesday.