Haemophiliac who contracted HIV from contaminated blood products tells inquiry he was told not to tell anyone

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

A severe haemophiliac who contracted HIV and hepatitis C from contaminated blood products was told not to tell anyone, including friends and family, because it could have made him a "social pariah", an inquiry has heard.

Derek Martindale, giving evidence on the first day of the Infected Blood Inquiry on Tuesday, said he was 23 when he was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and was given a year to live.

The 55-year-old IT contractor told the inquiry that his brother Richard, who also had severe haemophilia, had contracted the virus and died aged 23 in 1990.

In an emotional evidence session, Mr Martindale said his greatest regret was not being able to support his brother in the months before he died.

"He knew he was dying, he knew he had Aids and that he didn't have long to live and he just wanted to talk about that, talk about his fears, how scared he was," Mr Martindale said.

"But I couldn't, it was too close to home for me and I wasn't there for him, I wasn't there for him and three months later he died.

"It was the biggest regret of my life because he has gone and I cannot do anything to make amends for that."

Former High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff thanked victims for their bravery, saying he has read many of the witness statements already, describing them as “harrowing” and “incredibly moving”.

He promised to put people at the heart of the probe into the infected blood scandal - a treatment disaster which has been labelled the worst in the history of the NHS.

Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C via contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

Victim Jackie Britton, who was infected nearly 30 years ago but was only diagnosed in 2011, told ITV News successive governments "have blood on their hands".

She said: "For me personally, it's finding the people out there, like me, an ordinary mother that all of a sudden, your health gets worse, you go to the doctors and you get this bombshell of 'a blood transfusion you had nearly 30 years ago is killing you'."

She added: "It's been decades, so it's no one political party.

"To my mind, every party in power, they've had the opportunity to address these issues and they've all kicked it to the back grass, so they've all got blood on their hands."

Ms Britton was given a transfusion following the birth of her first child in 1983 - the blood carried the Hepatitis C virus.

Two previous inquiries have been branded a whitewash by campaigners.

This inquiry will not only look at the decision to import blood, some of which came from American prisons, but at a potential cover-up at the highest level.

Sir Brian said the inquiry would recognise that people have different perspectives.

“It cannot be just a favoured few, or for that matter a favoured many, who are at its heart.

“Those wishing to attribute blame; those wishing to escape blame; those who wish neither, but just seek to understand why what happened did, or to explain their actions; those who received blood products, those who were transfused with infected blood; those who were patients, those who were doctors.

"All are people, and all are entitled to be heard with respect; and I would ask participants to respect that entitlement, however unpalatable they may find some of the ideas, or explanations, or accusations being expressed.” he said.

Ms Britton was given an infected blood transfusion after childbirth. Credit: ITV News

The inquiry heard NHS England had written to GPs to help them support patients who have or who believe they may have been exposed to risks associated with infected blood or blood products.

The letter, dated April 11, said the greatest risk was in relation to hepatitis C, which often doesn't have any noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged, meaning people could be infected without realising it.

It said that because symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions doctors should consider checking if patients with flu-like symptoms, tiredness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and feeling or being sick had received blood or blood products prior to 1991.

It added: "The only way to know for certain if these symptoms are caused by hepatitis C is to get tested.

"Clinical staff should therefore consider asking patients who present with nonspecific symptoms whether they may have had blood or blood products prior to 1991 and offering them a screen for blood borne viruses."

After the inquiry hears from victims in central London, there will be similar testimonies take place over the coming months in Belfast, Leeds, Edinburgh and Cardiff.