Andy Burnham: UK blood scandal may amount to corporate manslaughter

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The Guardian

Andy Burnham has suggested there may be a case for charges of corporate manslaughter in relation to the contaminated blood scandal, as he challenged the Conservative leadership candidates to commit to making interim compensation payments to infected survivors.

The former health secretary, now mayor of Greater Manchester, wrote to each of the five remaining candidates on Friday to coincide with his evidence to the infected blood inquiry.

The public inquiry is examining what has been described as the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS, with about 3,000 people believed to have died and thousands more infected as a result. Haemophiliacs were infected after being given factor VIII blood products which used blood contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C imported from the US in the 1970s and 80s. Other people were infected as a result of being exposed to contaminated blood through transfusions or after childbirth.

The inquiry has heard evidence that the government knew of the problem long before admitting it and that the scandal was avoidable.

In the letters to the Conservative leadership candidates, Burnham said: “In preparing for my session, I carefully reviewed a substantial amount of documentation. I also recalled my many conversations with victims over the years. All this has led me to a clear conclusion: that 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.”

Burnham, who was also chief secretary to the Treasury, was giving evidence after Sir Robert Francis QC told the inquiry earlier this week about his recommendation in a government-commissioned report that surviving infected people should receive a minimum interim compensation payment of £100,000.

Francis said waiting until the end of the inquiry to pay compensation risked people dying in the meantime, before they were able to their affairs.

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Referring to Francis’s evidence, Burham wrote in the letters: “There is a concern that the leadership election in which you are taking part is delaying a decision on this vital matter. This could be avoided if all remaining candidates were prepared to commit now to making an interim payment of the kind recommended by Sir Robert within days of taking office as prime minister. Such a commitment from all five would allow the civil service to commence work now on the necessary arrangements and thereby minimise further delay, hardship and anxiety for those affected. Are you prepared to make that pledge?”

In damning evidence to the inquiry in central London, Burnham said civil servants had provided “inaccurate lines” to ministers regarding the scandal “primarily driven by a fear of financial exposure”. He was applauded by the audience when he said the government had “comprehensively failed” the victims of the contaminated blood scandal over five decades and expressed his hope that the inquiry would remedy that.

He said that knowing what he knew now, he never would have sent a 2009 letter to an infected person saying “there is no evidence that individuals were knowingly infected with contaminated blood and blood products”.

Before Burnham began his evidence, the inquiry chair, Sir Brian Langstaff, said that in light of Francis’s evidence he was considering using his powers to make a recommendation before the end of the inquiry for interim compensation to be paid. Langstaff gave core participants, including the government, until 5pm on 25 July to make submissions on the matter.

July 15, 2022 at 09:09PM Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

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