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Contaminated blood victims win right to sue government in High Court over health disaster

PUBLISHED: 19:51 26 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:46 28 September 2017

Contaminated blood campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice, including Jason Evans (third from left). Picture: Archant/Emma Youle

Contaminated blood campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice, including Jason Evans (third from left). Picture: Archant/Emma Youle

Archant

Contaminated blood victims have today won the right to sue the government in the High Court in a new legal case over the health disaster.

Jason Evans, whose father Jonathan died from Aids, is the lead claimant in the group action law suit. Picture: Archant/Emma YouleJason Evans, whose father Jonathan died from Aids, is the lead claimant in the group action law suit. Picture: Archant/Emma Youle

More than 500 people, who were either infected with HIV or hepatitis C from blood products or are families of the dead, are taking the landmark action.

In a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice lawyers acting for the Department of Health tried unsuccessfully to delay proceedings, arguing that the application was “premature”.

But the bid was blocked by a judge who said it was “appropriate” for the group legal action to go ahead.

The ruling means victims of one of the worst disasters in the history of the NHS will try to establish government liability for the scandal and win compensation through the courts.

Jason Evans, founder of Factor 8 Campaign UK, whose father died of HIV and who is the leading the group litigation, said: “It’s incredible. I don’t think the smile is going to leave my face for a while. It was the absolute best outcome we could hope for.”

Tony Farrugia lost his father and two uncles to the contaminated blood disaster. Picture: Archant/Emma Youle Tony Farrugia lost his father and two uncles to the contaminated blood disaster. Picture: Archant/Emma Youle

The case concerns the use of blood-clotting products in the 1970s and 1980s that were made from plasma donated through high-risk sources, such as prisoners and paid donors in the United States.

These factor products caused haemophiliacs to be infected with HIV and hep C and an estimated 2,400 people have so far died.

Many of those involved in the group legal action are the children or wives of men who have lost their lives.

Barrister Hannah Slarks, acting for the Secretary of State for Health, argued no full letter of claim had been sent to the government over the case and it was premature for legal action to move forward before terms of reference for a new public inquiry into the disaster have been set.

But Steven Snowden QC, acting for Mr Evans and others in the group litigation, said the public inquiry would not fully cover issues set out in the legal case and there was no reason for delay.

Tony's father Barry Farrugia died from Aids aged just 37. His children were then taken into care. Picture: Supplied by the Farrugia familyTony's father Barry Farrugia died from Aids aged just 37. His children were then taken into care. Picture: Supplied by the Farrugia family

He argued the proceedings must go ahead “whilst those that still have medical evidence to give are still alive and still able to give evidence”.

The judge in the hearing, Senior Master of the Queen’s Bench Division Barbara Fontaine, allowed the group litigation to proceed, saying the request for an adjournment was “not really based on any properly articulated reasons”.

She ordered the Department of Health to pay £1,800 towards the legal costs of the hearing.

The ruling was met with an emotional reaction from contaminated blood victims and their families sitting in the public gallery, as some clasped hands and others were teary eyed.

Mr Evans said: “We keep getting a step closer but all the while, because we’ve been shot down so many times over the years, it feels like we’re on cracking ice. But each step feels like the ice is stronger. I’m ecstatic about today’s decision.”

Angela Farrugia lost three brothers - Barry, Victor and David - to contaminated blood. She said it tore the family apart. Picture: Nigel SuttonAngela Farrugia lost three brothers - Barry, Victor and David - to contaminated blood. She said it tore the family apart. Picture: Nigel Sutton

The hearing follows an announcement by the Prime Minister in July that a public inquiry is to be held.

Reaction from contaminated blood victims involved in the case:

Tony Farrugia, who lost his father and two uncles to the blood scandal, is one of those taking part in the group legal action.

He said: “I’m elated. Finally we might be on the road to justice. It’s overwhelming.”

Tony’s father Barry, who was from Dagenham, died a horrific death from Aids and to compound the misery Tony and his siblings were then taken into care.

Mark Ward was infected with HIV and hepatitis C aged 14. Picture: Polly HancockMark Ward was infected with HIV and hepatitis C aged 14. Picture: Polly Hancock

Years later the family also faced the death of two of Barry’s brothers; merchant navy man Victor Farrugia, from East Ham, and another brother called David.

Their sister Angela has said previously that the deaths tore the family apart.

Another man, who was infected with HIV and hep C at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, is involved and welcomed today’s decision.

He has asked not to be named due to fears over the stigma he may face, but said: “It’s hopefully the first step to the realisation that we’re not going to go away.

“They [the government] are still putting up a fight over something that patently shouldn’t have happened.

Clair Walton's husband Bryan died from Aids contracted from blood factor products. Picture: Supplied by Clair WaltonClair Walton's husband Bryan died from Aids contracted from blood factor products. Picture: Supplied by Clair Walton

“We would like to thank the judge for her decision, for her clear view and for seeing this for what it is.”

Former British Airways cabin attendant Mark Ward, 48, who is part of the law suit, was also infected with HIV and hep C at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead aged 14.

He said: “The court’s decision in granting us permission to take the proper legal action that I, and others, were denied back in the early 1990s has certainly kicked the demons held inside.

“The High Court is the only place big enough to deal with a scandal of this magnitude in my opinion. Across the years countless opportunities to combat discrimination, stigma and rejection have not been taken by those who continue to compound the harm inflicted onto us with haemophilia.”

Former Crouch End resident Clair Walton, 56, watched her husband Bryan die from Aids and was also infected with the HIV virus herself through her late husband.

“I am delighted that we may at last see justice,” she said. “Whilst it is 24 years too late for my husband, it is a ray of hope at the end of a very long tunnel.

“The Department of Health and successive governments have take advantage of the stigma around HIV and Aids and relied on our silence. We have tried so hard to find justice and been met with further abuse. Our only option left is to go to court.”

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