Ken Clarke's Infected Blood Inquiry words were 'offensive' – campaigners
- Credit: PA
Ken Clarke's attitude towards the Infected Blood Inquiry (IBI) last week has been described as '"tin-eared".
But campaigner Mark Ward said we should not be surprised by this, citing Lord Clarke's record in a Tory government responsible for introducing the homophobic Section 28 law.
Mark, who was infected with hepatitis C and HIV as a child when treatment for haemophilia was tainted with the lethal viruses, said watching the week's evidence had been difficult.
A former Royal Free Hospital patient, he said: "It's been an emotional week. I'm really glad that I was there.
"On a couple of occasions I met his eyes. For me, for many years I have said what I really wanted was my day in court and to look Ken Clarke in the eyes."
Section 28 banned the "promotion of homosexuality" by local authorities until it was repealed by Tony Blair's government.
During last week's hearing, Sam Stein QC, representing victims, attempted to ask the peer about his "arrogant, pompous and contemptuous" demeanour but was turned down.
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Mark said: "I don't believe that the lawyers thought for one second Sir Brian Langstaff would allow it, but it was important to get on record for the victims."
For Mark though, one of the most aggravating elements of the week was Lord Clarke's talk of taking decisions to prevent homophobia.
He said: "For me personally, as the only LGBTQ ambassador for haemophilia worldwide, the way he spoke about the gay community – it was offensive.
"To sit there and justify the delays in producing leaflets because they didn't want to be seen as homophobic is hard to believe. This was the same government that brought in Section 28."
Mark added: "He had no concerns at all about what he was saying or the impact on those in the room."
Lord Clarke was the third witness to give evidence about decision-making in the Department of Health during the 1980s – following Dr Diana Walford and Lord Simon Glenarthur who had answered questions at the IBI's Fleetbank House base a week earlier. He spoke between July 27 and July 29.
The IBI is being led by Sir Brian Langstaff who is examining the circumstances in which thousands of people were given lethal viruses through NHS blood products. A large proportion of them have now died.
The inquiry is also considering how the government reacted and how it has supported victims since. All three witnesses were quizzed by Jenni Richards QC.
Lord Clarke told them: "I was not directly responsible for any of this. I only play such a prominent part in evidence because I'm... nowadays have the misfortune to be slightly better known than any of the others and I'm the nearest to a B-list celebrity you've got."
He spoke about opposing settling a large legal action brought by haemophiliacs in the late 1980s because, in his opinion, to pay compensation would have invited further campaigning.
He said: "Whatever you ask for will be regarded by some campaigners as not enough. But you get used to that in the field of health."
Lord Clarke maintained he felt the DHSS had "acted as swiftly and efficiently" as possible, saying "the victims and their relatives have my sympathy and support".
The ex-minister drew the consternation of his audience, which included victims of the scandal, when he told the IBI he knew of "no missing documents".
Previously the IBI heard that some top haemophilia doctors were "reticent" about accepting the risks of using blood factor products – created from a large number of blood donors – to treat patients.
Lord Glenarthur, who was an under-secretary in the DHSS during the 1980s with responsibility for blood products, told the IBI: "I have no doubt either that both clinical and administrative officials involved were thoughtful, diligent and concerned to provide the right advice, even if the process, looking back on it – all of us looking back on it, me included – often seemed slow and perhaps even too bureaucratic." .
Families and victims have repeatedly said they believe they were given the riskier blood products as "lab rats".
Clive Smith, chair of The Haemophilia Society,said Lord Clarke’s behaviour was a “shocking slap in the face” to those whose lives have been devastated by the scandal.
“His complete lack of compassion and remorse for the suffering caused by this scandal is a disgrace, which reflects the British Government’s shameful indifference on this issue for many decades,” he said.
The IBI has taken a summer break and will reconvene to hear evidence from another former Health Secretary, Lord Fowler, in late September.