Prospects for an effective open inquiry into the use of contaminated blood products in Scotland, which has left thousands of victims suffering from fatal infections such as Hepatitis C, do not look good as the results of the private inquiry held in England were announced today, revealing the fact that several witnesses refused to attend, and that documentary evidence was withheld by the NHS once again.
You can read the report from the English inquiry, Chaired by the Rt Hon. Lord Archer of Sandwell QC, here : The Archer Inquiry
The Scottish inquiry into contaminated blood products, announced nearly a year ago by the Scottish Government, has yet to begin work, and while Nicola Sturgeon, the Cabinet Secretary for Health promised on BBC Radio today : "Not only are we promising a full and open inquiry but we will deliver a full and open inquiry." it turns out the Scottish Inquiry cannot compel witnesses from the rest of the UK to attend, despite assurances from Westminster there will be full cooperation.
While Ms Sturgeon's claims may raise the expectation of some, the fact is that while there are elements of the Scots legal profession who are representing victims of the tainted blood products scandal, victims who are most certainly owed an explanation of why they received tainted blood products from the NHS, and are given a measure of justice so far denied to them, there are other, more powerful elements of the Scots legal profession in the form of the Government Legal Service for Scotland (GLSS), who will be ensuring that many decisions undertaken within NHS Trusts in Scotland, which resulted in the use of the tainted blood products, will never come to light.
In-house legal team little more than ‘bouncers’. The GLSS is the Scottish Government's in-house legal team, which represents virtually all aspects of legal business carried out by Government, the Scottish Parliament, and most public services in Scotland, and lawyers from the GLSS have been known to have taken part in many cases over the years, both civil and criminal, where decisions were obviously taken by Ministers on GLSS advice to withhold, lose, & possibly even destroy evidence from inquiries & investigations which could have compromised the Government's line on what really happened in a particular instance.
It seems to be the case there are still a few solicitors at the GLSS who were at their posts during the use of the tainted blood products by NHS Trusts in Scotland and some are sceptical those same solicitors will reverse or even reveal any advice given at the time which seems to have allowed some involved in the scandal to destroy or ‘lose’ documents relating to the use of knowingly tainted blood products.
One legal insider speculated today "This is all about delaying any admission of negligence and any compensation to the victims.Its little more than playing for time in the usual way, and the current Scottish Government are no better on that score than those who were in office when it all happened".
Lets hope Lord Penrose feels otherwise when his inquiry eventually starts ….
More from BBC News :
By Eleanor Bradford
Health correspondent, BBC Scotland
Scots who were infected with deadly viruses through contaminated blood are calling for a Scottish inquiry to have more powers.
Lawyers acting for hundreds of victims said an independent inquiry, set up by the Scottish Government, would only have the power to call witnesses in Scotland.
As the blood supply was contaminated before devolution, many key decision makers were in Westminster.
More than 4,000 people were infected with Hepatitis C, and in some cases HIV, through blood transfusions or haemophilia treatments before effective screening of blood donations was introduced in the early 1990s.
A separate private inquiry into contaminated blood supplies, headed by Lord Archer of Sandwell, is due to announce its findings.
Although it interviewed Scottish victims and witnesses, it had no powers to force witnesses from the Department of Health to attend because it was not set up by the UK government. Several witnesses refused to attend and documents were withheld.
Lawyer for Scottish victims, Frank McGuire, said: "All these events took place before devolution. The Department of Health had an important role to play in it, and we can't get that evidence."
High Court Judge Lord Penrose has been appointed to lead the Scottish inquiry. He has not yet set a date for the start of his investigations.
“We're not really getting to the heart of the matter. It's another whitewash”
Frank McGuire (Lawyer for Scottish victims)
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme the UK Government's Department of Health had given assurances it would co-operate fully with the inquiry.
"The inquiry has the maximum powers we are able to give it under the 2005 Inquiries Act," she said.
"It is the case that there may be issues of access to evidence or documents that are in possession of the UK Government but under the 2005 Inquiries Act no Scottish inquiry can compel that evidence.
"But we have been given assurances by the Department of Health that they will co-operate fully with Lord Penrose's inquiry."
She added: "Not only are we promising a full and open inquiry but we will deliver a full and open inquiry.
"I believe this inquiry is capable of giving those that have campaigned on the issue the answers they are looking for."
One of the victims, musician Andy Gunn, from Inverness, said he expected the Department of Health to withhold evidence from a Scottish inquiry, as it did in the Archer inquiry.
"Whilst we're grateful that they're holding an inquiry it's no use really because they're stopping short and withholding crucial documents and crucial witnesses," he said.
"We're not really getting to the heart of the matter. It's another whitewash."