Contaminated blood victims win right to sue government in High Court over health disaster

Michelle Tolley was diagnosed with Hep C, 28 years after being given contaminated blood. PHOTO BY SI

Michelle Tolley was diagnosed with Hep C, 28 years after being given contaminated blood. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

Contaminated blood victims have today won the right to sue the government in the High Court in a new legal case over the health disaster.

More than 500 people, who were either infected with the deadly viruses HIV or hepatitis C from blood products or are families of the dead, are taking the landmark action.

In a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice lawyers acting for the Department of Health tried unsuccessfully to delay proceedings arguing that the application was 'premature'.

But the bid was blocked by a judge who said it was 'appropriate' for the group legal action to go ahead.

The ruling means victims of one of the worst disasters in the history of the NHS will try to establish government liability for the scandal and win compensation through the courts.

Jason Evans, founder of Factor 8 Campaign UK, whose father died of HIV and who is the leading the group litigation, said: 'It's incredible. I don't think the smile is going to leave my face for a while. It was the absolute best outcome we could hope for.'

The case concerns the use of blood-clotting products by the NHS in the 1970s and 1980s that were made from plasma donated through high risk sources, such as paid donors in the United States.

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The blood factor products caused haemophiliacs and others to be infected with HIV and hep C and an estimated 2,400 people have so far died.

Many of those involved in the group legal action are the children or wives of men who have lost their lives.

Michelle Tolley, of Sparham, near Lenwade, was infected with Hepatitis C following a blood transfusion while giving birth in 1987.

But due to the way she contracted the disease, the ruling will not apply to her.

The 51-year-old said it was vital that all victims, regardless of how they were infected, were recognised.

She added: 'I would like to see all victims, both infected and affected, regardless of how they got it, given the same treatment and payments.'

The legal ruling was met with an emotional reaction from contaminated blood victims sitting in the public gallery, as some clasped hands and others were teary eyed.

Senior Master of the Queen's Bench Division Barbara Fontaine ordered the Department of Health to pay £1,800 towards their costs of the hearing.