Woman fights for justice after three brothers killed in health scandal
PUBLISHED: 13:04 24 June 2015 | UPDATED: 14:43 26 June 2015
Â© Nigel Sutton email firstname.lastname@example.org
A sister has spoken of the horrific health scandal that killed three of her adored brothers and tore her family apart - leaving them, and thousands others, fighting for justice.
Over the last three decades Angela Farrugia has watched two of her brothers die painful deaths from Aids and another from Hepatitis C (Hep C).
All three contracted these killer viruses from contaminated blood products supplied by the NHS up until 1991.
“It just absolutely ripped our family apart,” said Angela. “I don’t think our family’s ever recovered from that.”
Her eldest brother Victor Farrugia, who lived in Brooks Avenue, East Ham, suffered years of stigma with his home vandalised and “Aids scum” scrawled on his door before he finally succumbed to the disease in 2002.
Why did this carry on?
During the 1970s and ’80s, advances in medical technology increased the need for blood donations and companies in the United States in particular quickly found a way to make money from the shortage.
But there was no regulation in place to monitor safe ways to extract blood.
Clinics were set up across the US and people were paid to donate.
One Canadian company took blood from Russian corpses, while inmates at prisons were even paid to donate once or twice a week, again with no checks on whether they were carrying a disease.
The NHS, struggling to cope with the demand, continued to buy the products into the 1980s and up until as recently as 1991, despite the fact evidence suggests they were aware of the dangers some 15 years earlier.
At a 1997 independent inquiry into the scandal, Lord Archer of Sandwell said: “By the mid 1970s it was known in medical and government circles that blood products carried a danger of infection... and that commercially manufactured products from the USA were particularly suspect... but the products continued to be imported and used, often with tragic consequences.”
The brothers were three of thousands of haemophiliacs – many now dead – who contracted HIV or Hep C after being treated with contaminated blood by the NHS in the 1970s and ’80s.
The products came from high-risk donors including prisoners, drug addicts and the homeless, and were given to patients around the world.
But the British government continued to import them from America even after being warned they carried a risk of infection.
People with haemophilia, a blood clotting disorder, carried a particularly high risk of infection as they relied on regular injections of blood products to stop bleeding.
Former merchant navy man Victor, one of six siblings, had already suffered the horror of watching his younger brother Barry die an agonising death from Aids in 1986, aged just 37, when he found out that he too was HIV positive.
Another brother David was also infected from the contaminated blood.
Victor’s nephew Tony Farrugia, Barry’s son, said: “A few weeks after dad died, Victor was diagnosed with HIV and Dave with hepatitis C. It was a horrendous time for the whole family.
“Victor probably suffered more from the stigma than anyone else. His home was vandalised and he had ‘Aids scum’ written on his door.
“He split from his wife, was moved into a one-bed flat and eventually he turned into a vegetable after the HIV infected his brain. It was horrific to watch.”
Victor was 63 when he finally succumbed to the disease in 2002. David died aged 69 in 2012.
The scandal’s devastating effects on the Farrugia family has inspired Angela and Tony’s involvement in the growing campaign to deliver justice for the victims of tainted blood and a fair settlement from the government.
Of the 7,000 people given contaminated blood products, some through routine transfusions, only an estimated 6,000 are aware of it and 2,000 have died.
Like many, the Farrugia brothers were paid only small amounts by the government before they died – £140,000 collectively – a figure Angela says “insults their lives”.
She is now campaigning for payouts for her brothers’ offspring, and others like them.
“They took treatment to help them and it killed them, it was as simple as that,” she said. “They were victims of a cover-up really. It’s been covered up for all these years and I’m just trying to do what I can and get some justice.”
In terms of death toll, the contaminated blood scandal is the 15th largest peacetime disaster in British history.
Despite this a full government-led public inquiry into the scandal has never been held in this country.
In March this year David Cameron became the first prime minister to apologise for what happened, raising hopes that the victims left alive, and the relatives of the dead, may finally be offered a satisfactory compensation package.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We understand how distressing this scandal has been for those affected and their families, and the prime minister has apologised to all those that were infected with HIV and/or hepatitis C through treatment with NHS-supplied blood or blood products before 1991.
“Over the last two decades, various schemes have been set up to provide financial assistance to these people, and to date over £365million has been paid out in the UK.
“In recent years the Department of Health has put over £70 million more into the system (over the course of the last parliament), targeting resources at those in need.
“However we know that many people remain unhappy with the current support, and we are working on what can be done to improve it.
“The prime minister announced an additional one-off payment of £25million to help those who have been affected, and we are considering how to use it.”