"IT is simply not possible in the account which follows to capture the full scale of the horror, and tragedy, that has been caused by this disaster.” So writes Sir Brian Langstaff in his long-awaited report into the infected blood inquiry. It makes for soul-destroying reading.

Apparently an ITV drama has been given the green light. I wonder how many people will be able to bear watching it, knowing there cannot possibly be anything resembling a happy ending.

Rishi Sunak’s “whole-hearted” apology, plus another from Keir Starmer on behalf of the Labour Party, come far, far too late for thousands of victims who did not live to see the inquiry report’s publication. The survivors, their relatives and those who were bereaved bear terrible psychological scars that no inquiry findings will ever be able to heal.

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They were horrendously betrayed by the very people they had trusted to help them. They were repeatedly deceived by their own governments. And as they tried to get on with their blighted lives, many were shunned and abused within their own communities.

This is, as Langstaff suggests, a horror story of unthinkable proportions. It is a story of a group of people being utterly dehumanised – in the worse cases, treated by researchers as subjects, by their neighbours as disease-carriers, and by politicians as a problem to be ignored or covered up.

The 2021 mini-series It’s A Sin offered a harrowing portrayal of the impact of the Aids crisis on a group of young gay men in London, at a time when ignorance about HIV and how it was spread meant even friends and loved ones treated those infected with what now, with hindsight, feels like unbearable cruelty. It was tough viewing, forcing the viewer to ask how they would have responded in such terrible circumstances – or, depending on their age and past experiences, how they actually did.

I wonder, reading the most horrendous accounts of how victims of the infected blood scandal were treated, if those responsible for hounding them were watching or listening to the news yesterday. The person who daubed “AIDS” on Margaret Madden’s car after learning that her young son was infected. The person who tried to set fire to their subsequent home, while they were inside it. Is that person still alive, I wonder.

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Those were not isolated incidents. Colin Smith, whose young son had HIV, found “AIDS dead” daubed on their house in letters six feet tall, then scratched into the front door. Alison Morris and her family were plagued by silent phone calls after it was discovered that her brother-in-law had HIV and hepatitis C.

People who had been infected by medical professionals were presumed to be drug users, or promiscuous, or gay, and had to deal with the stigma of their conditions as well as the terrifying reality of them. When it eventually became public knowledge that men with haemophilia had been infected by blood products, sufferers faced questions about their status.

Langstaff has devoted a section of his report to the chilling events at the Lord Mayor Treloar Hospital and College at Alton in Hampshire, where boys with haemophilia both boarded and were treated at the school. Their parents were never made aware that they were used as guinea pigs by researchers who wanted to test the effectiveness of prophylactic injections on young subjects in a controlled environment.

Some 122 pupils with haemophilia attended the school between 1970 and 1987, and now only around 30 of them are still alive.

The boys received high doses of the blood product Factor 8 sourced from the US, which was widely known to be contaminated because it was taken from paid “donors” including prisoners, who were more likely to be intravenous drug users.

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Unlike elsewhere in the UK, in the 1970s and 80s, Scotland had enough of its own donated blood to meet the needs of most of the country’s patients, although children treated for haemophilia at Yorkhill hospital in Glasgow were also, tragically, given Factor 8 from the US. However, the supply of Scottish blood did not mean other patients avoided infection because donors were not adequately screened and here, too, they included prisoners.

An expensive but inadequate Scottish public inquiry into infected blood concluded in 2015 and resulted in just one recommendation – that anyone who had a blood transfusion before 1991 be screened for hepatitis C.

By contrast, the recommendations in Brian Langstaff’s report run to 70 pages, and some are stark indeed. This was not just a medical scandal, but an institutional and political one too, and he offers few words of comfort that suggest nothing as awful could happen again. “Standing back, and viewing the response of the NHS and of government, the answer to the question ‘was there a cover-up?’ is that there has been,” he writes. “Not in the sense of a handful of people plotting in an orchestrated conspiracy to mislead, but in a way that was more subtle, more pervasive and more chilling in its implications.”