As we previously reported, the 27th July was a difficult, prickly and unproductive first day of questioning, the majority of which was taken up with Lord Clarke getting frustrated and irritated about the “point” of the questions he felt were unnecessarily being directed to him: “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”.
We feel sure that everyone involved must have hoped that the following two days of hearings with him would be more productive and yield at least some useful information.
And surely someone in his team or close to him might have taken him aside to explain the importance of the questions being asked, the gravity and sensitivity of the subject matter, the depth of feeling of those infected and affected who had been waiting four decades to hear his account of things and the importance of candour and respect for them, and indeed members of the Inquiry team themselves?
If anyone did, he certainly didn’t take it on board, and the 28th and 29th continued in the same vein with valuable time taken up with long-winded answers and recollections that did not illuminate much.
He continued to repeatedly challenge questions put to him by Counsel, Jenni Richards QC and at one point snapped and said “we’re not going to go on all day like this are we?”.
Querying the point, purpose, tediousness, length and depth of the questioning throughout (on which Counsel reminded him that he had been sent the terms of reference which detail the subject matter and intention of the Inquiries questions and is given to all who give evidence – see details here).
At one point, clearly annoyed, he snapped “doesn’t the Inquiry want to reach a conclusion?”
It became increasingly clear throughout the hearing that Lord Clarke had perhaps not spent much of his time researching the breadth of the Inquiry’s work or the paperwork they had sent him, listened to any of the hearings, whether by those infected or affected or by his government colleagues or others, or even having a basic understanding of knowledge around haemophilia, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C or even the (still to be confirmed) scale of this tragedy.
He was asked “Have you ever been aware, Lord Clarke, that thousands of people, precise numbers hopefully to be established or some greater degree of precision to be established in due course, were infected with hepatitis C through blood transfusions”?
His somewhat unclear answer suggested he didn’t:
“It’s a risk still with blood transfusions. Though, they do, of course, we test nowadays. Yes. Hepatitis C continues to this day to be, I think, I mean, again, I speak as a layman. You must, these questions are all best put to some medic, but my understanding is hepatitis C remains something you have to be very aware of in hospitals today”.
On balance, throughout the three days Lord Clarke described himself at times as grumpy, upset, garrulous, combative, with a well-known habit for interrupting people, but despite acknowledging this and apologising to Counsel near the close, it felt extremely hollow.
Indeed, some core participants put forward an application through Sam Stein QC who is representing them, to ask if he should be censured for being “arrogant, pompous and contemptuous”.
Others went public in the media declaring him “a total disgrace”. See here, here and here.
It is hard to think that anyone who witnessed these hearings would be able to think otherwise.
On concluding the three days’ hearings, Sir Brian Langstaff said simply “I can’t think that anyone who has listened to your evidence will forget it in a hurry”.
He did however take the time to acknowledge the patience and respect shown by those attending:
“First, many of you have made a contribution to the work of the Inquiry and it’s a reminder to all of us of the importance to many of the issues before us that so many have been following it, in person or online. And very nearly 500 have followed us on YouTube and Zoom each day this week, together with a full house here at Fleet Bank, as you know, and I’ve no doubt that there are many more still for whom watching may perhaps have been too difficult, who have kept in touch with the Inquiry in their own way.
I’d like to thank you, each of you, whatever your perspective is, for being part of a collective endeavour to understand how and why such a tragedy occurred. You too have made a contribution and I’d like to thank those of you who have been here in person. Whatever your perspective, however welcome the evidence has been, however enlightening, however difficult it may have been from time to time to listen to it, or however much you may have fundamentally disagreed with it, I’d like to thank each of you for showing the courtesy to the witness, which has allowed each witness to say what they wanted to say, as they would wish to say it, whatever their role may have been”.
The hearings will resume in September with Lord Norman Fowler.
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