Victims of a contaminated blood scandal that killed thousands in the 1970s and 1980s have told of their relief after the Government reversed a decision to refuse them legal funding to prepare for a public inquiry.
Campaigners had accused the Cabinet Office of treating them ‘as cheaply and as insultingly as possible’ after learning they would be denied financial support to debate the inquiry’s terms of reference.
But, in a victory for the Daily Mail which has long campaigned on behalf of the victims, the department has changed its mind following an urgent question in the Commons.
Victims of the contaminated blood scandal earlier this week spoke of their ‘complete disbelief’ at being refused legal funding to prepare for an upcoming public inquiry – that decision has now been overturned
Dame Anita Roddick (pictured), founder of the Body Shop, was among the 7,500 patients who became seriously ill as a result of the scandal. She died of hepatitis C in 2007
The Minister for the Constitution, Chloe Smith, said: ‘We want to make sure that all those who need to contribute to the inquiry can do so.’
Jason Evans of campaign group Factor 8, said: ‘I’m really pleased, it’s such a huge relief to all those involved. I don’t know what the Cabinet Office were thinking in the first place.
‘Our main concern was that the scandal had a profound psychological impact on many and for them to be expected to go through this without the comfort of being able to seek legal advice was just plain wrong.
‘Ultimately though, it means we can make sure we get these terms of reference as fair and correct as possible.’
In the late 1970s to early 1980s, the NHS used blood supplies imported from the US that had been donated by high-risk groups such as prostitutes and drug addicts.
An estimated 7,500 patients, many of whom had the blood clotting disorder haemophilia, contracted hepatitis or HIV as a result.
Efforts by relatives to prove that the Government or NHS knew the blood products put lives at risk led to Theresa May last year announcing a full public inquiry.
Earlier this week however, the Cabinet Office – which is overseeing the inquiry – said it would not be giving those involved legal funding to debate the consultation on the inquiry’s terms of reference.
This was despite victims and their families claiming they had been assured that they would be.
Victims of the contaminated blood scandal say they should be awrded the same lvel of compensation as victims of the Grenfell Tower fire
The decision sparked uproar, especially after campaigners learned Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council was to set aside £3.5million in legal fees for those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.
Campaign groups noted that more than 70 victims of the blood scandal had died since the inquiry was announced last year, compared to 72 in the Grenfell fire.
Other recipients of legal aid in recent years have included the killers of Fusilier Lee Rigby and hate preacher Anjem Choudary.
A letter to the Cabinet Office signed by nine campaign groups said: ‘The nature and gravity of the scandal goes unrivalled in modern times. The number of dead is in the thousands.
‘You seem to be suggesting that the slow and agonising deaths that occur as a result of Hepatitis and HIV/Aids resulting in loss of mental capacity, bodily function and causing severe pain…is in some way a lesser tragedy than the events at Grenfell.’
Miss Smith said: ‘The inquiry is a priority for this Government. We are committed to making sure all those that have suffered so terribly can get the answers they have spent decades waiting for, and lessons can be learned so that a tragedy of this scale can never happen again.’
£30million to help the homeless
Homeless people in the Victoria area of London – there are an estimated 4,700 rough sleepers in the UK
The battle to eliminate rough sleeping received a £30million boost last night from the Government.
It will distribute the cash to councils with the worst homelessness problems.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid also announced a task force of experts in addiction, mental health and housing to cut the number of people living on the streets.
With an estimated 4,700 rough sleepers in the UK, he said the plans were part of the Government’s pledge to halve the total by 2022 and eradicate it by 2027.
He added: ‘This winter has tragically claimed the lives of a number of people sleeping on the streets. This is completely unacceptable in modern Britain.’