Infected Blood Inquiry: Ex-Crouch End victim of contaminated blood scandal tells inquiry of ‘30 years shackled to trust’
PUBLISHED: 10:26 07 May 2019
A former Crouch End resident who contracted HIV after her husband was given contaminated blood products in the 1980s told an inquiry on Thursday they had been co-erced into “signing away our home” by a charitable trust set up to help those affected by the scandal.
Clair Walton, 57, told the Infected Blood Inquiry that she and husband Bryan – who died in 1993, were “exploited for profit” by the Macfarlane Trust.
Clair only had the charge against her home removed last week by the Terrence Higgins Trust after a thirty year battle.
The Terrence Higgins Trust took “just a few months” to quash the debt which it inherited from the Macfarlane Trust when it was wound down in late 2018.
The Macfarlane Trust had taken a 58 per cent cut of Clair and Bryan's home in return for providing them with financial assistance as Bryan was dying in the early 1990s.
When Bryan's illness forced him to give up work, they turned to the newly-created trust. But the only help they were offered left Clair “shackled” to the trust, she said, for three decades.
She added: “[The trust] said that [they] would take away the mortgage by way of an investment in equity in our home and that the trust would then buy equity.
“That meant that they would have our house valued and they would give us the money that would be for the mortgage and then they would take X per cent, as it turned out 58 per cent I think it was, of the home in exchange.
“It wasn't what we were expecting.”
She said: ““We were forced to make the application because there was no other option.
“The Macfarlane Trust put a man who was dying of aids – he had been told he had only 18 months to live - under extreme duress to sign over our home to keep a roof over our heads.”
Clair told the third day of evidence at the inquiry, which is being chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff at Fleetbank House in Blackfriars that looking back she was convinced she and Bryan were being used as test subjects after Bryan's HIV diagnosis in 1985.
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With little being known about HIV at the time, even despite Bryan's diagnosis, the couple wanted to try for a baby.
When they asked a consultant about this, they were told “that's not very good idea but if you want to go ahead, we'll monitor you”, Clair recalled.
She told the inquiry what she thought was happening: “They were watching whether I would turn from HIV negative to HIV positive. That was it. There wasn't any advice around. There was no discussion around ovulation, about whether either of us were actually, you know, fertile in any way.”
Clair also told the inquiry of “traumatic” dealings with successive executives at the Macfarlane Trust, who even ignored requests from her now-MP Nadim Zahawi to reconsider their treatment of equity in her home.
This continued even as this newspaper's groundbreaking investigation into the issue exposed the hardships of victims of the scandal like Clair.
She said that while she was living in north London and had become seriously ill with Aids-related complications, two executives from the Macfarlane Trust came to her home and again refused to withdraw the charge on her home.
Meanwhile the inquiry was shown letters written both too and about Clair – including one in which executives refer to “this woman's poor money management track record”.
She said: “That shows the contempt they held me in again as a woman living with HIV grieving for a dead husband.”
Clair also spoke of the stigma of being a young woman with Aids even as recently as the mid 2000s.
She said she had even been verbally abused by a nurse on an Aids-ward during treatment at the Royal Free Hospital at that time.
“It was assumed that I was a drug user or I was a prostitute. There was assumptions there and I didn't want to have to sort of explain who I was. I shouldn't have to.”
The public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal continues in London until Friday May 10. Hearings will then be held in Edinburgh, Leeds, Belfast, Cardiff, and London again.