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Sunak sorry for institutional blood scandal cover-up

China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-22 09:29

Families affected by the infected blood scandal rally outside the Methodist Central Hall in London on Monday. LEON NEAL/GETTY IMAGES

LONDON — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologized on Monday for the failures of successive governments over an infected blood scandal that led to 3,000 deaths and said it was a "day of national shame".

The final report of a public inquiry into the scandal accused the government of covering up the disaster.

Former judge Brian Langstaff, who chaired the inquiry, said more than 30,000 people received blood and blood products tainted with HIV or hepatitis from the 1970s to the early 1990s from the National Health Service, destroying lives, dreams and families.

The government hid the truth to "save face and to save expense", he said, adding that the cover-up was "more subtle, more pervasive and more chilling in its implications" than any orchestrated conspiracy plot.

Sunak apologized to the victims and said the report's publication marked "a day of shame for the British state".

"Today's report shows a decadeslong moral failure at the heart of our national life. From the National Health Service to the civil service, to ministers in successive governments, at every level the people and institutions in which we place our trust failed in the most harrowing and devastating way," he told a packed and silent House of Commons.

"This is an apology from the state — to every single person impacted by this scandal. It did not have to be this way; it should never have been this way. And on behalf of this and every government stretching back to the 1970s, I am truly sorry."

The families of victims and survivors had sought justice for years and Langstaff, who led a six-year inquiry, said the scale of what happened was both horrifying and astonishing.

In some cases, blood products made from donations from prisoners from the United States or other high-risk groups paid to donate were used on children, infecting them with HIV or hepatitis C, long after the risks were known.

Other victims were used in medical trials without their knowledge or consent. Those who contracted HIV were often shunned by their communities.

Stephen Lawrence received blood after he was knocked down by a police car in London in 1985. Two years later, he was diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis C at the age of 15.

"I was accused of being on drugs, drinking, all that," he told Reuters, adding that he had not been compensated because his records had gone missing.

"It's about justice," he said. "I've been struggling with this for 37 years."

Payments of 210,000 pounds ($267,000) will be made to living infected beneficiaries, Cabinet Office Minister John Glen said on Tuesday. Sunak is reported to have authorized payments worth about $12.7 billion.

"Politics itself failed you," the opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said. "That failure applies to all parties including my own. There is only one word: sorry.

"And by that apology, I acknowledge that this suffering was caused by wrongdoing, delay and systemic failure across the board, compounded by institutional defensiveness."

Former prime minister Theresa May, who commissioned the report in 2017 when she was incumbent, said there had been "a devastating and abject failure of the British state — medical professionals, civil servants, politicians — all of whom felt their job was to protect their own reputation rather than to serve and look after the public who they were there to serve".

At a news conference held on Monday by parliamentary campaigners for the victims' justice, former health secretary Andy Burnham said he believes entire government departments should also face prosecution.

"There must now be full consideration of prosecutions, and I would include in that the potential for corporate manslaughter charges against Whitehall departments," he said.

Jonathan Powell in London contributed to this story.

Agencies via Xinhua

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