Infected Blood Inquiry: John Major apologies for “incredibly bad luck” comment

Sir John Major at the Infected Blood Inquiry

Sir John Major at the Infected Blood Inquiry - Credit: Infected Blood Inquiry

Sir John Major apologised after angering an audience by saying that the contaminated blood scandal was “incredibly bad luck”.

The former Conservative prime minister is the highest-ranking politician to give evidence, on Monday 27, at the Infected Blood Inquiry, which is investigating how thousands, including Royal Free Hospital patients, contracted Hepatitis C and/or HIV from infected blood products during the 1970s and 1980s.

Sir John later apologised for the “unfortunate” choice of words: “I would just wish to say to you that if that caused offence I apologise, it wasn't intended to do so. 

“It was intended simply to say that it was a random matter and I perhaps expressed it injudiciously and if I did, I apologise to those who were offended.”

The politician, who worked at the Treasury as chief secretary and as chancellor at the end of the 1980s, was questioned on his role in deciding financial support for victims of the scandal at the time.

He stated that it would be more “accurate” to call any payment to victims an “ex-gratia payment” rather than compensation: “There is no way you can compensate for what happened to the victims of the blood tragedy.”

Major defended his position of a tightly “ring-fenced” scheme for compensation in 1987, saying: “It was the first time that any government had actually made absolutely ex gratia payments for where there was no legal fault. 

“We needed to ring-fence it to avoid suddenly opening the option for a whole range of other claims on wholly unrelated issues.”

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He referenced economic “difficulties” at the time, particularly high inflation, as the “big bugbear” that had affected expenditure decisions.    

Sir John conceded it took too long to extend financial help to non-haemophiliacs, saying: “So perhaps it was longer than it would normally have taken, had we not had exactly the difficult economic background that we did at that precise moment.”

He denied that Thatcher government started considering financial support for haemophiliacs who got infected for political rather than moral reasons.

“Underneath the legend of the unyielding Iron Lady was someone who often did yield and often did look at things on a human basis to a much greater extent than she is given credit for," he said.

The inquiry continues.