The atmosphere in today’s hearing was tense and nervous from the start, even with Counsel Jenni Richards QC asking straightforward, introductory and general questions of Lord Clarke about his various roles in government, specifically from 1982 – 1985 as Health Minister and later as Health Secretary, from 1988 to 1990.
His arms folded for much of the initial session, he came across as defensive and much of the time was taken up with him clarifying these roles and going off on various tangents.
Ultimately his answers seemed to endlessly reiterate that he had no responsibility for blood products in either of these roles.
“I was never the minister directly responsible for blood products… I was never asked to take a decision on blood products… I never intervened to take a decision on blood products”.
He recalled having an early general concern about supplies from America, where blood was taken from “down and out people donating…” in particular around AIDS in the early 80s, which completely overshadowed a lot of the early information also coming in about hepatitis viruses.
It was not until later that he became involved with discussions around the creation of an information leaflet to deter people who were most at risk of having HIV from donating blood to the UK supply.
“Why were you involving yourself in the leaflet as Minister of Health”? asked Jenni Richards QC. He went to some lengths to explain that his involvement with this was primarily to provide some damage limitation to what was a very sensitive subject.
It was clear that the people known to be most at risk of having HIV at the time were gay men and he did not want to worsen the existing homophobia that was present at that time, in what he referred to as “silly season” in the media with potentially lurid stories about gay men and AIDS. It was also important that people were not deterred from donating, or too embarrassed to come forward and donate. There were also concerns about creating a nationwide panic amongst the general public.
At one point Clarke got increasingly exasperated with the nature of the questions and queried their relevance.
Sir Brian Langstaff was quick to clarify for him, “I think the relevance ultimately Lord Clarke, is for me to determine. If I think that the questions are unhelpful, I’ll indicate that, but, at the moment, it would be helpful to me if we just deal with the questions as they come, and leave the motives or the purposes of asking the questions to counsel…”.
Certainly the feeling of many attending was one of shock and outrage at Clarke’s seeming lack of respect for both the Inquiry team and for those who have waited for 40 years to hear his explanations of this time.
He described how he was not a medical person and it was not for ministers to decide which treatments are the best to give or what information should be given to others about them. However, even after four decades since this tragedy started to come to light, he had little understanding of the basics, not even how Factor 8 was administered, wondering if perhaps it was given as a pill.
He clearly felt strongly that clinicians should be the ones taking the responsibility for advising their patients of any potential risks and didn’t seem to think that anything more could have been done at the time.
Counsel asked him, wasn’t that the point, to ensure that haemophiliacs should have been made aware of the risks? She reflected on the extensive evidence that has been heard from those infected and affected, the bereaved and others who have consistently reported to the Inquiry that they were given no information on risk about products they, or their children were receiving.
He retorted that people “must have been fairly switched off” to have not been aware of the risks as they were known at the time, which drew gasps and groans from those attending.
Hearings with Lord Clarke will continue on the 28th and 29th July.
If you need any support or information around issues raised by the Inquiry, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us on the helpline – 020 7089 6221 or firstname.lastname@example.org