TENS of thousands of Britons could be infected as a result of the contaminated blood scandal, the former judge leading an inquiry has suggested.

A public probe will consider the treatment of thousands of people in the 1970s and 1980s who were given blood products infected with hepatitis viruses and HIV and the impact this has had.

It has been estimated 3000 patients in Scotland were infected with tainted blood products during this time.

Representatives of Haemophilia Scotland, the Scottish Infected Blood Forum (SIBF), and the independent Scottish campaigners they work with, have travelled to the three-day hearing, which began yesterday.

Chairman of the inquiry, retired judge, Sir Brian Langstaff, yesterday addressed the hundreds of people who attended the start of the Infected Blood Inquiry in London.

“It is a truly sobering thought that if some of the claims are well-founded – and it is for this inquiry to find out if they are – there may yet be many thousands more who do not feel well, but have not yet been told that the reason for this is that they suffer from Hepatitis C,” he said.

Langstaff said it is estimated that the number of infected could go far beyond 25,000 adding that there is a “real chance that these estimates may prove right”. He added: “A sobering thought that the consequences of what was done then may be continuing to cause death even now.”

Victim Michelle Tolley spoke as the probe into the deaths of more than 2400 people who were infected with HIV and Hepatitis C as a result of the scandal began.

“Anyone who may be responsible ... they need to be held accountable and prosecuted if needs be – I strongly believe that,” said the mother-of-four from Norfolk.

“People need to know that this tragedy happened,” she said. “This is the worst tragedy in the history of the NHS and it must never ever happen again, absolutely never.”

The 53-year-old was infected following a blood transfusion after the birth of her child in 1987 and another transfusion in 1991 – she eventually found out in 2015 that she had Hepatitis C.

Today’s Opening Statement will be made by Aidan O’Neill QC – instructed by Thompsons Solicitors Scotland – on behalf of 248 individual core participants, Haemophilia Scotland and the SIBF.

The Infected Blood Inquiry is much broader terms of reference than the Scotland-only public inquiry into contaminated blood and blood products conducted by Lord Penrose between 2009 and 2015. Crucially, it is examining all the contaminants in blood and blood products, including Hepatitis B and vCJD, rather than being limited to HIV and Hepatitis C.

It will also be investigating whether there was a cover-up of the disaster.