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THE UK INFECTED BLOOD PUBLIC INQUIRY: Collins Solicitors Condemns Government Department Liaison with Cabinet Office over 'Independent' Public Inquiry

Steven Snowden QC, instructed by Collins Solicitors, condemns liaison between UK Government departments and the Cabinet Office over Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Snowden referenced email evidence from HM Treasury citing both “inherent public interest in transparency” of the Inquiry and material requested being “under debate with Cabinet Office.”

The Cabinet Office is the sponsor of the ‘Independent’ Infected Blood Public Inquiry.

Des Collins, Senior Partner of Collins Solicitors, says that what “can only be described as collusion is outrageous and wholly inappropriate – but sadly unexpected” and calls for an investigation from Sir Brian Langstaff, Chair of the Inquiry.

Collins Solicitors is representing more than 800 victims, their families and seven campaign groups at the Public Inquiry.

At 10.00 am today, Wednesday, 26th September, the public preliminary hearings of the Infected Blood Public Inquiry heard the opening statement from Steven Snowden QC, instructed by Collins Solicitors, on behalf of 656 individual core participants and the Factor 8 campaign group.

He made reference to the existence of clear evidence of liaison between different Government departments and the Cabinet Office – the sponsor of the Infected Blood Public Inquiry – in relation to Freedom of Information requests made by individual clients of Collins Solicitors for the purposes of the Public Inquiry. The evidence highlights HM Treasury communicating with the Cabinet Office to determine which documents to make available and when. The FOI requests, made by campaigner Jason Evans in early May 2018, were for Government held documents about haemophilia and AIDS. Not all the material requested was provided and the outstanding documents remained “under debate with the Cabinet Office” by the end of July, more than a month over the legal limit for FOI requests. A series of internal email exchanges discussing the outstanding material were released, however, under a second FOI request, clearly indicating extensive liaison between HM Treasury’s Information Rights Unit and the Cabinet Office, referencing ‘standard wording’ to stall certain requests and that the Cabinet Office might “want to be sighted” on FOI requests relating to the Inquiry.

Des Collins, Senior Partner of Collins Solicitors, commented:

“From where I stand this can only be described as collusion. It is outrageous and wholly inappropriate, but sadly unexpected. We have only just begun the long and difficult journey of trying to get to the bottom of what went on in the 1970s and 1980s in relation to the Infected Blood scandal. We are being asked to take at face value what the politicians say about the Inquiry and that this will be a full, public and independent Inquiry. That means it is independent of Government intervention. That is because the Government’s role in this tragedy absolutely is in question and needs to be examined. It is not for Government departments to ask the Cabinet Office to decide which documents can be made available to whom and when. A Freedom of Information request of this nature should not be granted at a Civil Servant’s discretion. How can those affected by this tragedy trust anyone, if it looks as if the dice are rigged from the start? I will be writing to Sir Brian Langstaff, Chair of the Inquiry, for an immediate investigation.”

It has been stated numerous times by senior politicians that the Public Inquiry will be fully independent and transparent, with all relevant documentation made available by relevant Government departments to those who have been infected or affected by this tragedy. For example:

• The Prime Minister, Theresa May, announcing the Inquiry on 21st December 2017, said: “The inquiry will have full powers, including the power to compel the production of documents, and to summon witnesses to give evidence on oath.”

• At the formal opening of the long-awaited Infected Blood Public Inquiry, David Lidington MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “On 8 February 2018, I announced the appointment of Sir Brian Langstaff to chair the infected blood inquiry. From the outset, Sir Brian has been clear that he is determined to put people at the heart of the inquiry and to ensure an inclusive and transparent process.”

• On 8th February David Lidington, MP added that: “The Inquiry will, of course, also be independent of the Government.”

For commentary, background or insight, please contact:
Des Collins
Senior Partner
Collins Solicitors
T) 01923 223 324
M) 07831 522 540

Danielle Holliday
Collins Solicitors
T) 01923 223 324
M) 07540 531 753

Will Hulbert
Hulbert & Co.
T) 01603 431 936
M) 07774 108 699

Notes to Editors
Further details on the background to this matter, its history, a timeline and relevant statistics are available here: www.collinslaw.co.uk/contaminated—blood
The hearings are live streamed and can be accessed here.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Factor VIII and Factor IX Concentrate Products were the most commonly used products to treat Haemophilia and were particularly high risk, with Factor VIII entering routine use in the late 1970s.

It is estimated that in the UK, almost 4,000 haemophiliacs who were given these treatments were infected with Hepatitis C, whilst over 1,243 also contracted HIV, in many of whom this then progressed to AIDS.

Some victims unwittingly infected their partners with HIV, of whom at least 31 have died.

The failure to act is estimated to have caused over 2,000 deaths nationwide, so far. Many victims died too early to be treated with modern life-prolonging medication, without which the death toll would have been much higher.

Fewer than 250 of the haemophiliacs who were “co-infected” with both Hepatitis C & HIV remain alive, most had died before 1997. Those who survive face a lifetime on medication having to cope with both a serious illness and truly shocking discrimination.

Public Inquiry Timeline:
After many years of campaigning by the victims of the Contaminated Blood Scandal, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced the Infected Blood Inquiry on 11th July, 2017.
While the inquiry was originally sponsored by the Department of Health, it was transferred to the Cabinet Office on 3rd November, 2017.
A statement from the Prime Minister followed on 21st December, 2017 announcing that the forthcoming inquiry would be a full Public Inquiry.
Mr. Justice Langstaff was announced as Chair to the Public Inquiry on 8th February 2018, which was scheduled to start sitting in May 2018.
The consultation period with victims of the contaminated blood scandal to set the ‘terms of reference’ of the inquiry lasted until 26th April, 2018.
The Public Inquiry formally opened on 2nd July, 2018 with the first Public Hearings held on 24th September 2018.

Group Litigation Order:
In addition to the Public Inquiry, Collins Solicitors applied for the ‘Contaminated Blood Products Group Litigation Order’ on behalf of its clients on 4th July, 2017 and this was granted on 27th October, 2017. Collins Solicitors also represents over 500 victims and their families in this matter.

The High Court also ordered the Department of Health to disclose documents relating to previous litigation linked to the Contaminated Blood Scandal.

The Court has ordered that all new claimants must join the Contaminated Blood Products Group Litigation and be on the register by 30th November, 2018.

 Collins Solicitors represents more than 800 victims, their families and seven campaign groups, including:
o Birchgrove Group
o Factor 8
o Fatherless Generation
o Forgotten few
o Manor House
o Positive Women
o Tainted Blood

Anyone affected by the issues covered by the Infected Blood Public Inquiry, whether victims or relatives of victims, has the right to be represented.
To join the Contaminated Blood Products Group Litigation, please contact Collins Solicitors on 01923 223 324 and ask for the Contaminated Blood Team, or email the firm at contaminatedblood@collinslaw.co.uk