Former health secretary Ken Clarke has been branded a “total disgrace” over his behaviour during an inquiry into the infected blood scandal – as victims asked if the politician could be censured for being “arrogant, pompous and contemptuous”.
Sam Stein QC, a lawyer representing a group of victims, made an application to address Lord Clarke on behalf of several families to ask the ex-cabinet minister how he had conducted himself while giving evidence to the inquiry over the past three days.
Decades waiting for evidence in blood inquiry
In response, Sir Brian Langstaff – the chair of the Infected Blood Inquiry – said he “well understood” the reasons for the application from the families but declined the request.
“I do not think that will help me to resolve the issues,” Sir Brian told the hearing.
“Part of the job of this inquiry is to look at all the evidence from whichever source it comes.
“Part of that evidence is the identity and character of the individual who is concerned with the passages of evidence with which this inquiry is concerned.
“I do not think that it is helpful to ask someone if they are arrogant, pompous and contemptuous of others.”
More on Infected Blood Inquiry
Lord Clarke, who was not in the room at the time of the request, later apologised to lead counsel Jenni Richards QC for “showing signs of impatience” during questioning, adding that his behaviour had been “combative”.
His evidence to the inquiry this week saw tetchy exchanges with Ms Richards, with the Conservative peer accused of failing to present the evidence demanded by victims and of having a “disgraceful” attitude.
Des Collins, solicitor to 1,500 infected and affected clients, said: “The application, though highly unusual in nature, is unlikely to have come as any great surprise to those who have spent the last two-and-a-half days watching Lord Clarke give evidence.
“However the issue for the inquiry is not so much Lord Clarke’s demeanour but the extent to which his evidence assists the inquiry in getting to the truth of matters some 40 years on.”
Tearful evidence of infected blood victim
Tony Farrugia, whose father Barry and uncles died after contracting HIV and hepatitis through infected plasma, said Lord Clarke had been “totally disrespectful to all the victims and the families”.
He told the PA news agency: “He’s been disrespectful to the council, disrespectful to the chair. He constantly talks over people. There’s no way that this man should have ever been given a lordship. He should not be in the House of Lords.”
Jason Evans, the founder of Factor 8, a non-profit organisation which represents survivors and families of victims, said Lord Clarke had been a “total disgrace” during the week.
“We’ve all waited a long time to hear Clarke give evidence but what we will all remember from this week is not answers or the truth, it will be the total disrespect shown to all those infected, affected and the inquiry’s own legal team,” he said.
And Clive Smith, chairman of The Haemophilia Society, added that Lord Clarke’s behaviour had been a “shocking slap in the face” to those whose lives have been devastated by the scandal.
“His complete lack of compassion and remorse for the suffering caused by this scandal is a disgrace, which reflects the British government’s shameful indifference on this issue for many decades,” he said.
The inquiry will now have a break from hearings and will later return in September.