The preliminary hearings of the Inquiry took place over 3 days from Monday 24th to Wednesday 26th September in central London.
The commemoration that took place on the Monday was very poignant, touching and was carried out with dignity and respect by those infected and affected who took part. As far as we could tell, it was universally praised.
It is extremely unfortunate, to say the least, that events from a Scottish perspective were taken over and overshadowed by the circumstances and diatribes around the Scottish Government’s lack of becoming a core participant.
The Inquiry website has full transcripts of the hearings should you wish to see finer detail:
A detailed summary of pertinent events over the 3 days has been prepared by Thompsons Solicitors who are representing SIBF, Haemophilia Scotland and around 250 other Scottish core participants:
Monday, 24th September
Today, Monday 24th September 2018, the Infected Blood Inquiry began with the first of three days of Preliminary Hearings at Church House, Westminster.
This morning, there was a very powerful and moving commemoration service. As well as music and poetry, a video was played to the inquiry where people who had been infected and affected spoke of their experiences and what they wanted the inquiry to achieve.
The Chair of the Inquiry, Sir Brian Langstaff, then made his opening remarks this afternoon. He started by saying that he doubted that anyone could call themselves human if they were not affected by the stories told in the commemoration video. He acknowledged that the events that brought everyone together that day were a tragedy and that it had been called the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS. He also mentioned that he hoped that the press would give the inquiry the attention it deserves and that they would report fearlessly and fairly.
He thanked those who had responded to the consultation on the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference and hoped that people would continue to engage with the Inquiry as the Inquiry is dependent on those infected and affected in order to succeed in investigating its Terms of Reference. He also said that he recognised the bravery of those who had spoken to the Inquiry as for many it would have re-opened old wounds.
He explained that the purpose of the preliminary hearings was to listen to core participants advising what parts of the Terms of Reference they wish to emphasise and how they can best help to shape the inquiry procedures.
He explained that the inquiry process would be governed by several principles. Firstly, he would put people at the heart of the inquiry and he emphasised that he meant this. As a result, the first three months of oral hearings would be hearing from those who were infected and affected and he would also hear from those infected and affected at the end of the oral hearings. He said that the inquiry recognised how hard it is for people to re-live these events and that there will be counselling services available.
He also said that he was conscious that, the longer the inquiry takes then some people will not see the results. He said that, in the response to the Consultation of the Terms of Reference, there was a strong view that the inquiry should be quick. He said that the inquiry should be as fast as reasonable thoroughness permits. He said that the inquiry cannot have a favoured few at its heart – proper respect needs to be given to all persons entitled to be heard. He also said that the Inquiry would not confine itself to London and hearings would take place in Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and the North of England (probably Leeds).
He said that legal representatives will be properly funded and he wanted the Inquiry to be as open and transparent as it was legally possible to be. He said that he was willing to seek documents that have not been seen before and he would be willing to hold people to account where appropriate and would express his view without fear or favour. He said that he was independent of government and frightened of no-one.
Jenni Richards QC, Counsel to the Inquiry, then gave her opening remarks. The purpose of her remarks was to provide information about the workings of the inquiry and to provide an update on progress so far and matters going forward.
She outlined the six key themes in the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference:
She advised that the inquiry was empowered to look at individual as well as systemic and institutional responsibilities.
In due course, the Inquiry will publish a list of issues within the Terms of Reference and this will be shaped by what they hear from Core Participants over the next two days of Preliminary hearings. She expects that Core Participants will have additions and the inquiry will identify new lines of investigation as it recovers evidence.
She stated that the inquiry realises that it is an immense undertaking as the inquiry will be looking at actions, inaction, conduct and policy making over decades.
She advised that there are currently 1,288 core participants which they believe is the largest number of any public inquiry. This includes 8 charities and campaigning organisations.
She mentioned that the Scottish Government are not currently core participants. The Scottish Government position is that they will not apply because they do not think that the inquiry should re-visit the Penrose Inquiry. The Inquiry’s position is that this does not reflect the Terms of Reference of the present Inquiry. The Terms of Reference apply as much to Scotland as to the rest of the UK and it is a matter of regret to the Inquiry that the Scottish Government are not Core Participants. The Chairman can and will exercise his powers to recover documentation, although there is no reason to think that the Scottish Government will not provide those voluntarily.
Ms Richards explained that the inquiry’s investigative work has begun in ernest. They are gathering witness statements and documents. For individuals who are legally represented, the Inquiry are funding the legal representatives to take these statements.
She said that the Inquiry has asked for fees to be waived for recovering medical records and therefore people should be able to obtain their medical records without charge.
She acknowledged that individuals would have wider knowledge due to their campaigning and the inquiry is keen to work with those individuals.
She explained the efforts that the inquiry was making to recover documentation from numerous sources. So far, they have recovered 100,000 documents and expect to recover many times that number.
She also outlined the approach that the Inquiry was taking with regard to expert groups. There are five expert groups:
She provided the names of the people who have been selected for the groups to date. Core Participants can suggest additional areas of expertise. Core Participants will be invited to share issues and the letters of instruction to the groups and their reports will be published. Core Participants will be given the opportunity to pose questions to the expert groups. The Inquiry are keen to ensure that all expertise is transparent and open to scrutiny.
At the moment, the inquiry expects that the oral hearings will commence on 30 April 2019. As stated by the Chair in this remarks, the hearings will start with evidence from the infected and affected. Those hearings will last for three months until the end of July 2019 and will take place in London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and Leeds. There will then be a break until around October 2019 when the inquiry will start considering the key issues set out in the first part of the Terms of Reference (what happened and why). It is anticipated that this will comprise of around 5 months of hearings. Thereafter the Inquiry will hear evidence on treatment, care and support, consent and information sharing, the response of Government and the issues of cover up, then recommendations for the future and will conclude with further testimony from those infected and affected.
It is expected that the Inquiry will sit for three weeks out of four, up to four days per week.
It was emphasised that, the plan after the first three months is provisional and is subject to the views of core participants on how matters should be organised and structured and the volume of material received. They expect that the oral hearings will not take less than a year and a quarter from commencement in April 2019.
She also mentioned that they will take statements from former health secretaries, civil servants and doctors and they expect them to be questioned for the first time in public. She expected this cooperation without the need to compel them but that the Inquiry would use any powers that they have as necessary.
She concluded by saying that the Inquiry is acutely aware that lives have been devastated and destroyed and, although the inquiry cannot reverse or undo that, it would do everything that it can to provide answers and fulfil its Terms of Reference.
The proceedings were streamed live on the inquiry website and, if you would like to view today’s events in full, you should visit www.infectedbloodinquiry.org.uk.
Tomorrow, opening statements will be delivered by core participants. Aidan O’Neill QC, instructed on behalf of Thompsons’s clients, will be the first to give an opening statement tomorrow morning. A further update will be issued after tomorrow’s hearing.
Tuesday, 25th September
Today, Tuesday 25th September 2018, was the second day of the Inquiry preliminary hearings. Aidan O’Neill QC made an opening statement on behalf of the core participants represented by Thompsons. Aidan was first legal representative to give an opening statement. This shows that the Inquiry recognise that you all have a significant contribution to make to this inquiry because of their Penrose Inquiry experiences.
The opening statement which Aidan spoke to this morning is available to view here. It will also be posted on the Infected Blood Inquiry website in due course.
In his oral remarks, Aidan focused on the following areas of our statement:
Opening statements were made by legal representatives of other infected and affected core participants. There were a number of themes that overlapped with our statement, such as destruction of records, the need for a thorough investigation, people being branded as alcoholics, drug abusers of sexually promiscuous and the need for full financial compensation. A common theme of all the statements was the importance of truth and accountability.
Opening statements were also given today by various core participants who were not legally represented. They talked about their own stories and areas that were important to them for the inquiry to investigate.
Today’s proceedings are available for viewing on the Infected Blood Inquiry website at www.infectedbloodinquiry.org.uk.
Tomorrow, further opening statements will be made by legal representatives, including the legal representative of the Haemophilia Society and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. Proceedings can be followed live on the Inquiry website. A further update will also be issued after tomorrow’s hearing.
Wednesday, 26th September
The Preliminary Hearings of the Infected Blood Inquiry concluded on Wednesday 26th September 2018.
Further opening statements were given by core participant’s legal representatives and unrepresented core participants.
Raymond Bradley, instructed by the Haemophilia Society, highlighted a letter from the then Prime Minister John Major in which he stated that “the Government has given the question of compensation very careful consideration, including the Irish Scheme. I have great sympathy but I really do think it is better to spend money provided for healthcare, from whatever source, on treating patients than on payments to people who received the best possible treatment available at the time….It is therefore possible that Haemophiliacs and those suffering from Hepatitis C might be able to benefit from lottery grants, but this would be a matter for the Board to decide in response to any Applications received.” This comment drew outrage from those present at the hearing.
Opening statements were also given on behalf of the Department of Health and Social Care, on behalf of the Department of Health (Northern Ireland) and Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service, Health and Social Services of the Welsh Government, NHS Blood and Transplant, the Welsh Blood Service and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS).
The preliminary hearings concluded with remarks from the Inquiry Counsel Jenni Richards QC and the Chairman, Sir Brian Langstaff.
Jenni Richards QC expressed gratitude for all of the contributions made during the preliminary hearings and said that the Inquiry wanted to reflect on everything that they had heard. She corrected the point made by our QC Aidan O’Neill in his opening statement that there were ongoing police investigations in Scotland. She said that the investigations had been closed and the documents had recently been disclosed to the Inquiry and these would be considered by the Inquiry and then made available.
She also mentioned again the refusal of the Scottish Government to become core participants. She said that she understood that the issues for this were twofold. She said that they wanted to know that the reconsideration of issues considered by Lord Penrose would be kept to a minimum and secondly they wanted assurances that the Cabinet Office would meet their legal, staffing and transport costs. Jenni Richards stated that the Terms of Reference were a matter for the Chairman and not the Scottish Government or the Cabinet Office and that they were wrong if they thought they could tell the Chairman what to do. She also said that the Inquiry would not be funding Scottish Government costs or NHS Scotland costs and once again stated that the Scottish Government should become a core participant.
She also stated that the expert groups previously referred to were groups not panels and would have the status of expert witnesses and this was important as expert views can be challenged by core participants posing questions in writing once they have seen their report. She also stated that the experts would not be giving private advice to the Chair at the report writing stage but that they may have advice regarding recommendations and that this evidence would be made public.
She also mentioned the process of “Maxwellisation” and concerns that the process of issuing warning letters would cause delays and lack transparency. She said that the warning letters should not cause delay and that it is not possible to jettison the process of warning letters as it is set down in the Inquiry Rules and that the process is vital for the legitimacy of the conclusions of the inquiry. She said that the Inquiry was considering the matter further and would come back in due course.
She also said that any claims of legal professional privilege in terms of disclosure of documents would be scrutinised with vigour.
She concluded by saying that the inquiry wasn’t one into matters of history but matters that continue to have an effect on people’s lives and that they would do their best to fulfil the responsibility that had been placed on them.
The Chairman then made his concluding remarks. He said that the preliminary hearings had given him many things to think about, which had been their purpose. He said that he intended to do his very best to ensure that the inquiry gets the answers that those infected and affected deserved. He said that the inquiry could not work as it should without the full participation of its core participants. He said that it was a pity that the Scottish Government had not joined them but that he hoped in due course that it will. He said that the three days of preliminary hearings had made the scandal really visible in the way that he had been told that it wasn’t before. He said that it was not too late for people to come forward to assist the inquiry and said that rights to privacy would be protected.
He concluded by giving an assurance that, tomorrow morning before 9am, he would be at work and he and his team would stay hard at work until the job is done. He said that they would not so much start but continue the search for truth.
The video of proceedings can be found on the inquiry website at www.infectedbloodinquiry.org.uk.
We will be in touch with you all with further updates as the inquiry progresses but if you have any queries in the meantime, please do not hesitate to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or to telephone 0141 221 8840 and to ask for a member of the team.