Infected Bloody Inquiry: Witness claims victims being used as 'political football' after Karen Bradley letter on compensation
A WITNESS at the Infected Blood Inquiry in Belfast yesterday claimed victims were being used as a "political football".
A letter was read out from Secretary of State Karen Bradley about parity of financial support for victims across the UK, which she said was ultimately a devolved matter.
'Witness I' had asked her about victims in England and Scotland receiving more financial help than those in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ms Bradley replied that "the best means of supporting victims in Northern Ireland is via a functioning assembly in which locally elected ministers can speak up and act on their behalf".
"That is why securing a successful outcome to the talks process is my absolute priority."
The anonymous witness claimed victims of the contaminated blood scandal were being "stalled again" and being used as a means of getting politicians back around the table.
In a statement last night, the Department of Health said: "Payments to beneficiaries in Northern Ireland were at similar levels to England's scheme until the recent announcement regarding an uplift for English beneficiaries on the 30 April 2019.
"There were no extra resources for Northern Ireland as a result of the English announcement.
"The department is considering the Northern Ireland position in light of these recent developments and will participate in discussions with the other UK regions in forthcoming weeks."
Yesterday's sitting of the UK-wide inquiry heard from several witnesses including former Newtownards councillor Nigel Hamilton, who was infected at the age of 14 during a procedure to correct a squint.
He said he lost his career, his health and his self-respect as a result of receiving infected blood.
Siblings Christina McLauglin, Patricia Kelly and John Conway also gave evidence about the illness and treatment of their youngest brother Seamus Conway, who died in May last year just months after being diagnosed with liver cancer.
Born with severe haemophilia, he had received numerous blood products over the years and had contracted hepatitis C and cirrhosis of the liver.
The inquiry was told that the siblings' brother Eddie, who also has severe haemophilia and hepatitis C, recently had a scan which showed cirrhosis of the liver and possibly cancerous cells.
And Mrs McLaughlin revealed she is currently awaiting the results of tests to see if she too has hepatitis C. She believes the only way she could have contracted it was by years of caring for her brother.
She said she has "no trust left" in the medical profession.
The inquiry heard that Mr Conway, an avid Liverpool supporter and talented snooker player, had been hoping for more time and in the final weeks of his life had three aims - to play snooker with his idol Jimmy White, to make it to his daughter's 16th birthday and to go on a family cruise.
While he was able to meet White and attend the party, he never achieved his final goal.
His family said he had the "most horrendous" final few days, suffering severe pain.
Mr Hamilton (58), also a haemophilia sufferer, became infected with hepatitis C when he underwent an eye operation in 1974.
It wasn't until 1990 that he discovered he had contracted the virus during the procedure.
As a result, he has suffered major health problems and decades of treatment not only for hepatitis C but for cirrhosis and cancer of the liver.
Before the diagnosis, Mr Hamilton recalled being called to a meeting with other haemophiliacs in the mid-1980s at the Royal Victoria Hospital which he said "is indelibly printed on my mind".
The meeting was to discuss the Aids virus, and he told the inquiry that he and others were told they would be tested but that it was up to them as individuals if they wanted to know the results.
"Why would I want to walk around infecting people?" he said. "If I had it I would want to know."
Mr Hamilton, who tested negative for HIV, told the hearing that he began working in 1987, unaware of any other infection, got married and had a family.
It was while a sales representative in England, which entailed a lot of driving, that he first began to suffer from extreme fatigue and lethargy.
He was informed he had been infected with hepatitis C in 1974.
"It left me in total shock," he said, explaining that his first concerns were for his wife and four sons.
He agreed to become part of a study and underwent four courses of treatment, which resulted in a range of side effects, from headaches, nausea and shakes to mood swings, depression and personality changes.
In subsequent years, he developed cirrhosis of the liver, suffered a bleed on the brain which prevented him from working again, and was diagnosed with liver cancer before undergoing a successful liver transplant.
His first and second marriages broke down but he is now in a "stable relationship with a very good woman".
Choking back tears, he said: "I am here today to tell the story and I never thought I would be, adding that the hearing would bring him "closure" but not "justice".