Haemophiliac tells Infected Blood Inquiry how brothers were branded ‘AIDS family’

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Damon Green

A man who lost three of his haemophilia-suffering brothers to HIV after they were given infected blood products as part of their treatment has told an inquiry how he and his loved ones were vilified and branded the "AIDS family".

John Cornes likened the abuse that he and his siblings endured to the treatment the Irish received in the aftermath of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974, explaining how the grave of one brother was defaced by vandals.

On Tuesday, he told the Infected Blood Inquiry that he was one of six brothers to suffer from haemophilia.

Mr Cornes, of Kings Heath, Birmingham, explained how he remembered being treated with the frozen blood product cryoprecipitate as well as Factor VIII blood-clotting products in the 1970s.

When asked what information he was given about treatments by doctors, Mr Cornes, who started attending the city's Queen Elizabeth Hospital at the age of 15, said: "We weren't given none.

"We didn't ask the question.

"They didn't come forward with the possibilities of how it could affect us in the future."

Discussing the day that his brother, Garry, realised that he had HIV, Mr Cornes said: "He was sobbing his heart out."

The inquiry heard how Garry passed away on Remembrance Sunday 1992 aged 26, leaving behind his wife, who herself died in 2000 after contracting HIV from him.

Just a month after Garry had been diagnosed with HIV, another of his brothers, Roy, was told that he too had the condition, and he also died at the age of 26 in May 1994.

He told how Roy had been a bit of a "Jack the lad", and, between being diagnosed and his death, inadvertently infected a girl with HIV, who died before he did.

Mr Cornes said that the "press got hold of it" and "came down on the family", saying: "In Birmingham, we were known as the scumbags, [and] the AIDS family."

The Cornes family at Garry and Lee's wedding: (From left) Alan, Paul, Garry (groom), Lee (bride), Merle, John and Roy Credit: Family handout

He explained how vandals defaced Roy's grave, saying that it had the word "s***" written on it and had stones thrown at it.

Likening the treatment they received to that of the Irish following Birmingham pub bombings, he said: "I can totally understand the way the Irish community were affected by the bombings and it wasn't their fault, and it wasn't our fault, what happened to us."

He was giving evidence during the first day of witness hearings at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Leeds city centre.

The contaminated blood scandal has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.

Thousands of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s, and around 2,400 people died.

The inquiry heard how a third brother of Mr Cornes, Gordon,was diagnosed with HIV three months after Roy, and died in December 1995.

Mr Cornes said that his mother, who he described as a "big, strong woman", suffered a heart attack and died shortly after Gordon.

He told the assembled audience: "I have got a load of nephews and nieces from the brothers who have died and I have nephews that haven't got a mother or a father.

"So it's affected at least 30 of my family.

"So I am here to represent not just the infected, but also the affected.

"I didn't really want to do this, but there is a need."

Mr Cornes went on to explain how he and two more of his brothers were diagnosed with hepatitis C, with one of them dying after suffering a brain haemorrhage which he said was the result of the "stress and anxiety" of the illness.

Speaking after his court appearance, Mr Cornes told ITV News: "I love my family, my children.

"I don't know how long I've got to live, I could die next month, that could seriously happen.

“Or I could live, I intend to go kicking so I'm hoping to be around for another 10 years, I'm not sure.

"None of us knows but because of the problems I've got it will probably be sooner than later."

With the time he has left, he said he wants to live a “naughty life” and “have fun”.

“My family, it's ripped us apart,” he added.

“We were the victims and we didn't have any help from the government, there was nobody there advising us on what to do or educating or helping us mentally. We didn't have anybody there.”

The inquiry, which is due to sit in Leeds until the end of next week, continues.