Infected blood scandal: inquiry to call for prosecution of those responsible

A long-awaited final report from the public inquiry into the infected blood scandal is expected to call for those responsible to face prosecution, the Guardian has learned.

The official inquiry, set up under Theresa May in 2017, will present its findings on Monday in a huge moment for victims and bereaved relatives of what has been described as the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

The inquiry process, chaired by the former judge Sir Brian Langstaff, has no scope to determine civil or criminal liability. However, it is believed that its report will recommend prosecutions, potentially including current or former NHS figures.

About 3,000 people are believed to have died after more than 30,000 patients were infected with hepatitis C and HIV from the 1970s to the early 1990s, due to contaminated products made from blood which had been donated in the US.

In the wake of the report, the Treasury will announce a compensation package that is understood to total about £10bn. The money to pay for it will come from borrowing.

Government officials say they expect any formal response on Monday to be limited, as the publication of the report will represent what one source called “a day for the victims and families”. After the report is examined, the next steps will be set out in the following days.

The compensation process will be led by Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, who told the Sunday Times it was the “worst scandal of my lifetime”, and that victims and their families were right to feel angry with a generation of politicians, including him, for not acting to address it.

Hunt, who said he had personally promised a constituent he would tackle the scandal in 2014, shortly before the man died from liver cancer connected to hepatitis C, said all politicians should be “deeply ashamed it has taken so long”.

Des Collins, a senior partner at Collins solicitors, who has acted as a solicitor and adviser to about 1,500 victims of the scandal and their families, said he had no idea what was in the closely guarded report, but that recommendations for prosecution were very possible.

“That wouldn’t surprise me at all,” he said. “The interim report criticised the whole system – individual collective and systemic – that level of culpability can only point to corporate manslaughter or criminal negligence.”

However, whether any prosecutions actually happen remains to be seen, and could involve yet another long wait for those affected. Corporate manslaughter in particular is a complex offence to prosecute. Since it was introduced in 2008, there have been only a few dozen cases, with only a handful involving the NHS.

A similar blood scandal in France saw the former prime minister Laurent Fabius and two of his ministers charged with manslaughter. In 1999, Fabius and one minister were acquitted, and the other minister was found guilty but freed. The director of the National Blood Centre received a four-year prison sentence.

Collins said differences in institutional culture and the legal system meant that prosecutions were less likely to actually happen in the UK.

“Whether it will end up as in France with people in jail and very serious prosecutions I suspect not but I’m happy to be proved wrong,” he said.

The inquiry has heard evidence alleging that civil servants, the government and senior doctors knew of the problem long before action was taken to address it, and that the scandal was avoidable.

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Collins thought the reason for what he sees as a government cover up was, “when things started to look like they weren’t as comfortable as they might be, everyone looked across the channel to France and thought, ‘Dear me, they’re prosecuting, we’ll make sure there’s no possibility of prosecution in this country’”.

One of the highest profile proponents of the case for corporate manslaughter has been Andy Burnham, a former health secretary and mayor of Greater Manchester.

In 2022, he wrote to Conservative leadership candidates: “The Department of Health, and the bodies for which it is responsible, have been grossly negligent of the safety of people in the haemophilia community over five decades to the extent where there may even be a case for asking the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] to consider charges of corporate manslaughter.”

Ben Harrison, head of public law at Milners, which is representing core participants in the inquiry, said the fact that the scandal had taken place in the 1970s-1990s meant that corporate manslaughter charges were unlikely to be possible.

He said: “First and foremost, corporate manslaughter is governed by 2007 legislation which does not apply retrospectively to a time when crown immunity existed for any such offence; the time at which so many were tragically and fatally infected.”

However, Collins said the fact that victim deaths have occurred since 2007 could mean that corporate manslaughter is still possible, but there is a question of how to punish a public body such as the Department of Health.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said it was a “mark of shame” that thousands of victims had died without getting compensation.

Writing in the Sunday Times, he said: “We must seize this moment to finally deliver justice. No more warm words, no more false dawns – the time has come for justice. I hope this week we see proper timelines and plans for delivering. I promise Labour will work with the government to make this a reality – without delay.”


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