A Northern Ireland man who contracted hepatitis C after being given infected blood has told how the ordeal destroyed his life.
Tomorrow marks the start of witness hearings in Belfast as part of the UK-wide public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal – described as the worst tragedy to ever hit the NHS.
Some 4,800 people with haemophilia were infected with hepatitis C or HIV after being given contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s. More than 2,000 are thought to have died.
Co Antrim man Nigel Hamilton and his brother Simon, both mild haemophiliacs, were infected with hepatitis C after receiving contaminated blood transfusions.
Today Simon lives with cirrhosis of the liver and must be tested every six months to determine if he has cancer.
Nigel, a former DUP councillor who served as mayor of Newtownabbey in 2007, was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2017 and later had a transplant.
The brothers have bravely waived their right to anonymity and will be taking the stand along with other victims this week to tell their harrowing stories as the inquiry comes to Belfast.
The hearings will run until Friday at the Waterfront Hall, as part of a regional hearing process covering the UK.
Nigel told the News Letter that while he hopes the inquiry will finally bring out the truth about what happened, he said he will never get justice.
The Hamilton brothers were diagnosed at the age of four with mild form of haemophilia, a condition that prevents blood from clotting properly.
Nigel underwent an eye operation in the 1970s when he was 14, and it was not until the 1990s that he discovered he had been infected with hepatitis C during the procedure.
The 58-year-old, who now lives in Islandmagee, said the revelation had a devastating impact on any ability he might have to live a normal life.
He said the ordeal contributed to the breakdown of his marriage and the loss of his career, and he suffered several years of serious illness with periods of hospitalisation and ill health.
He said colleagues at the haulage firm he worked for feared he was highly contagious, and even wrongly believed he may be carrying HIV.
“The contaminated blood destroyed my life and ruined my opportunities to work and have what any self-respecting person would aim for,” he said.
“While I am now in good health after the liver transplant and the virus is out of my system, I am still left with the emotional trauma of what impact this has had on my life and I have been left picking up the pieces.
“All I want out of this is closure. I am never going to get justice.
“No one is ever going to give me my family or career back.
“This inquiry will bring out the truth as to what has happened and why, and who was responsible and why we were not consulted sooner. I am still angry and frustrated and bitter.”
Simon, who is the chairman of Haemophilia NI, said: “Living with the loaded gun of a damaged liver due to contaminated blood is challenging for me and my family.
“Every six months I attend for the tests and we wait with bated breath to find out if there is any sign of a tumour.
“That has become my burden and will be for as long as I live.”
The Hamilton twins and most of the victims giving evidence in Belfast are represented by Watkins and Gunn Solicitors.
Michael Imperato, a partner with Watkins and Gunn said: “This is a chance for the world to be informed of the terrible suffering and injustice these people have suffered.
“We act for a significant number of victims in Northern Ireland, but I personally believe there are many more who have not yet come forward. I would urge anyone impacted, including family members of sadly deceased victims, to contact us.”
The inquiry is chaired by Sir Brian Langstaff who has pledged to “put the people who have been infected and affected at its heart”.
Over the course of four days of hearings in Belfast, the public inquiry will hear from more than a dozen witnesses.
It will examine why men, women and children in the UK were given infected blood and/or infected blood products; the impact on their families; how the authorities (including government) responded; the nature of any support provided following infection; questions of consent; and whether there was a cover-up.