Solicitors in Watford representing victims of the contaminated blood inquiry hit out at collusion between Government departments and the Cabinet Office as the hearing got underway last week.
Steven Snowden QC, instructed by Collins Solicitors on Station Road, made the opening statement to the inquiry on behalf of 656 victims and the Factor 8 campaign group.
He made said there was clear evidence of liaison between different Government departments and the Cabinet Office – the sponsor of the Infected Blood Public Inquiry – in relation to Freedom of Information requests made by clients of Collins Solicitors for the inquiry.
The FOI requests, made by campaigner Jason Evans in May this year, were for Government held documents about haemophilia and AIDS.
Not all the material requested was provided and the outstanding documents remained “under debate with the Cabinet Office” by the end of July, more than a month over the legal limit for FOI requests.
A series of internal emails discussing this were released but Mr Snowden said a second FOI clearly demonstrated the liaison between the Treasury and the Cabinet Office and also indicated liaison between HM Treasury’s Information Rights Unit and the Cabinet Office referencing ‘standard wording’ to stall certain requests and that the Cabinet Office might “want to be sighted” on FOI requests relating to the Inquiry.
Mr Collins said he was outraged but not surprised
He said: “We have only just begun the long and difficult journey of trying to get to the bottom of what went on in the 1970s and 1980s in relation to the Infected Blood scandal. We are being asked to take at face value what the politicians say about the Inquiry and that this will be a full, public and independent Inquiry. That means it is independent of Government intervention.
“That is because the Government’s role in this tragedy absolutely is in question and needs to be examined. It is not for Government departments to ask the Cabinet Office to decide which documents can be made available to whom and when. A Freedom of Information request of this nature should not be granted at a Civil Servant’s discretion. How can those affected by this tragedy trust anyone, if it looks as if the dice are rigged from the start? I will be writing to Sir Brian Langstaff, Chair of the Inquiry, for an immediate investigation.”