Infected blood: Bereaved son demands answers over father's death as inquiry concludes

  • Speaking publicly for the first time about how his family has been affected by the scandal, Owain Harris said he wants to know "why it was covered up for so long".

The son of a music teacher who died after contracting HIV and hepatitis C from contaminated blood has said he wants to “hear people being held accountable” as an inquiry into the infected blood scandal concludes.

Father-of-two Norman Harris, from Treorchy, is one of more than 3,000 victims to have died after receiving contaminated blood products from the 1970s to the early 1990s. 30,000 NHS patients are thought to have been infected in the UK.

The chair of the Infected Blood Inquiry, which opened in 2017, is due to publish his final report today (Monday, 20 May).

Owain Harris, who is also a music teacher, did not find out about his father’s HIV status until he was in his late twenties.

Norman Harris was given infected blood products while receiving treatment for haemophilia. Credit: Family photo

He said he is still unsure who in his family knows the truth about what happened to his father, who died aged 65 in 2012.

“[My parents] lived with it and they kept it a secret from everybody for many, many years - their own families - and that must have been tough, that must have been really difficult,” he told ITV Cymru Wales.

“At the time I was quite angry, I’ve got to be honest, because this secret had been kept from myself and my sister. I’ve grown to realise that my parents were just protecting me from that stigma.

“What also frustrates me in all this is they had very little support from the NHS in those days about how to deal with this.

"They were never told, ever, how to tell their children. They were never given any support how to tell anybody else. They were given very little psychological support.”

Norman Harris died of a brain haemorrhage in 2012, but an inquest later found hepatitis C had contributed towards his death. Credit: Family photo

In April 2023, the inquiry recommended that bereaved parents and children should receive £100,000 in compensation, but Owain said he and his sister have not received a penny.

When asked whether his father ever received compensation, Owain said: “Compensation, you would assume, means you get paid something by somebody who’s done something wrong. If we’re defining compensation as that, the answer is no.

“They were given money randomly throughout the 1990s and he was given payments for the HIV in his later life, because he couldn’t work and so on, but never compensation in the sense of ‘we’ve done something wrong, here’s your compensation for our misdoings’.”

It is estimated that more than 400 people in Wales were given contaminated blood and blood products.

Until now, Owain has only spoken to close relatives and friends about his family’s ordeal.

“Going through it in childhood and so on was stressful enough, but ironically having this public inquiry going on for so long, it has just been hanging over us now since 2017 and it’s now 2024, that’s longer than World War II, do you know what I mean? That’s a long time.

“It’s taken its toll and we just want it to come to an end and a resolution and to draw a line really, and to hear people being held accountable, just so we’ve got some sort of closure.

“I want to see exactly what went on, who did what and why. I want to know why it’s been covered up for so long, because it has, and moving forward that it doesn’t happen again.”

  • 'It wasn't inevitable that his treatment was going to eventually kill him'

More than 100 people in Wales are thought to have died after contracting HIV or hepatitis C from blood products known as factor VIII.

It was made by mixing the plasma of up to 60,000 people, including high-risk groups like prisoners and drug users in the US.

“There were other treatments available that other countries used, it was just the UK went for the cheaper option and that’s the sad reality,” Owain said.

“They had warnings from the World Health Organisation, I think back to the late 1940s, definitely early 1950s, that pooling blood products was not a good idea due to the risk of hepatitis - obviously they didn’t know about HIV then - so really it wasn’t inevitable that his treatment was eventually going to kill him.

“People did wrong things and made wrong decisions and bad decisions for whatever reason.”

Owain believes his father chose to tell his children about his HIV status "to start removing this stigma about HIV". Credit: Family photo

Owain said he has been left “sceptical” of the NHS and distrustful of governments as a result of the scandal.

“Whenever I or a member of my family has to deal with the NHS, I’ve got to be honest, I’m always sceptical. I basically end up telling the doctors what’s happened just so they know and understand why I’m asking so many questions about my treatment or somebody else’s treatment.

“It just gives you a mistrust of government, but not just government in the sense of politicians, in the sense of the establishment and the civil service and how the country is run.”

The UK Government said it has paid more than £400million in interim compensation payments, providing £100,000 to those infected or bereaved partners registered with the UK Infected Blood Support Schemes since October 2022.

Speaking ahead of the inquiry’s final report, a UK Government spokesperson said: “Justice needs to be done and swiftly, which is why we have acted in amending the Victims and Prisoners Bill."

They added: “This includes establishing a new body to deliver an Infected Blood Compensation Scheme, confirming the government will make the required regulations for it within three months of Royal Assent, and that it will have all the funding needed to deliver compensation once they have identified the victims and assessed claims.

“In addition, we have included a statutory duty to provide additional interim payments to the estates of deceased infected people.

“We will continue to listen carefully to the community as we address this dreadful scandal.”

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