Northern Ireland news

Twins given contaminated blood will take the stand in major NHS inquiry

Simon Hamilton (left) with his son Ethan and his twin Nigel. The men are to give evidence at the public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal
Seanín Graham

CO Antrim twins who became infected with contaminated blood more than 30 years ago are to give evidence at landmark public inquiry into a NHS scandal linked to thousands of deaths.

Simon Hamilton (58) from Glengormley and his brother Nigel were both left seriously ill after receiving blood in separate incidents that required decades of treatment for Hepatitis C, liver cirrhosis and cancer.

The opening day of witness hearings will begin today in London into what has been dubbed the worst tragedy to hit the NHS, with 2,400 deaths and the infection of 5,000 patients with HIV and other life-threatening illnesses.

Infected blood - taken from individuals including prisoners and drug addicts - were used in the NHS during the late 1970s and 1980s to treat patients.

The Hamilton twins will give their evidence in Belfast next month following a 30-year fight by campaigners for an independent inquiry.

The inquiry will investigate whether there was a cover-up, with terms of reference considering "whether there have been attempts to conceal details of what happened" through the destruction of documents or withholding of information.

It is estimated that more than 400 people became infected in the north. It is not known how many deaths it caused, as many died from secondary illnesses.

Nigel Hamilton became infected as a teenager when he underwent an eye operation in 1974 following a car accident. It was not until the 1990s he discovered he was infected with hepatitis C during the procedure.

He went to develop liver cancer and had to undergo a transplant.

"In my 30s it became evident there was something wrong," he said.

Mr Hamilton said it came as a "hammer blow" to him and his family when he was diagnosed and had to inform his wife and children they too had to be tested for the condition

"At that stage I was married with four sons...it devastated my marriage, unfortunately all trust was gone. I've lost an awful lot."

His brother Simon, who is the chair of a group representing more than 300 haemophiliacs in Northern Ireland, became infected in 1986 but did not discover he had Hepatitis C until the mid 90s.

"I went on to develop cirrhosis and I've had years of treatment, it's been very difficult and we know many people who have died," he said.

"We welcome the start of the public hearings so that victims can finally tell their stories and help uncover what has happened.The public inquiry is our last real chance to hear the ugly truth and see justice after too long. We have all lost friends in this disaster and this will be a moment for them."

Preliminary hearings began last September but witnesses will give evidence in cities across the UK over coming months. The inquiry is expected to last more than two years.

It will also probe the impact on families, how government responded, the nature of any support provided following infection and questions of consent.

Inquiry chair Sir Brian Langstaff, said: "I have little doubt that their testimony will not only be poignant but also a powerful tool in helping to get to the truth of what happened."

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