A man who contracted HIV and Hepatitis C from the infected blood scandal has told an inquiry how he has been left an “angry old man”.
Gary Webster, 56, was a pupil who went to Lord Mayor Treloar College, a boarding school in Hampshire, from 1975 to 1983.
He was one of several pupils who attended the school and was given treatment for haemophilia at an on-site NHS centre while receiving their education.
It was later found that many pupils with the condition, which has no cure and impairs the body’s ability to make blood clots, had been given blood products, such as plasma, which were infected with hepatitis and HIV.
Out of 89 children who attended the school in the 1980s, fewer than a quarter of former pupils are still alive.
The Infected Blood Inquiry, an independent probe into the thousands of people who were infected with HIV and hepatitis after receiving blood transfusions in the 1970s and 1980s, began its hearings into the school on Monday.
Mr Webster, who was diagnosed with haemophilia A when he was six months old, was told he had been infected with Hepatitis C and HIV when he was 18 years old.
Becoming visibly emotional while describing the difficulties he has faced, he told the inquiry: “I have guilt still being here. It’s the stigma. Losing 72 friends, school friends, who you’ve known since you were this high, so that’s been difficult.
“I’m an angry old man now, so I don’t think I’m that good at relationships. It’s hard to explain. It affects everyone, not just me, but everyone out there. But it is difficult, for my parents, [his daughter] Amy, everyone really. It’s hard because you lose all these people. Why [did it happen]?”
Giving evidence at the hearing, Mr Webster described how, when he joined the school, he was originally receiving Cryoprecipitate for his treatment, but over the years from 1976 onwards, he began receiving other medicines, such as Kryobulin, Hemofil, Lister and Koate, to help him with his bleeding.
During the inquiry, Mr Webster was asked if he had any recollection of a discussion about the different products that were being used to treat him.
“None at all,” he said. “We just went to a room. 90% of the time it would have been drawn up in a machine. They just said, ‘We’re giving you Kryobulin’ or ‘We’re giving you this’ or ‘We’re giving you that’. There was no ‘Can we’, or ‘We’re changing it’, nothing at all.”
Paperwork displayed at the inquiry showed how Mr Webster was also enrolled in several medical trials, but only one appeared to be with his mother’s consent, which he said his mother had no recollection agreeing to.
He added he remembered taking part in one trial for a particular medication as pupils received a £35 payment for it. However, he could not remember which medicine it was for.
The inquiry heard Mr Webster and his friends became suspicious about the medicines they were receiving in the 1980s when they noticed certain situations take place.
They included newspapers, which were usually in the school library, disappearing from the school when they featured stories about HIV or Aids.
Describing how he found out his diagnosis, he said: “I was with a friend and we were asked to go up and see [one of the doctors] Dr Wassef, and we went in the room and he said, ‘I’ve got some bad news, you’re positive for HGLV-3 HIV,’ and that was it really.
“He said, ‘we don’t know a lot about it, the outlook’s not good, we can’t guarantee that you’ll be alive in a couple of years.’ We just stood at each other, I think we laughed at each other. It was a shock.”
He added his father had previously rang the school and questioned Dr Wassef if his son had contracted HIV or Aids after seeing reports of infected blood in the newspapers in 1983, but Dr Wassef did not tell him.
Mr Webster later told the inquiry that he attempted suicide between his 20s and 30s.
“Getting told you have got two years to live, even though I kept a job down, I didn’t really care about things that much,” he said.
“I was just out of it, I just didn’t care. But then I pulled myself together and Amy was born. Now you live with it and cope with it every day.”
At the end of his emotional testimonial, Mr Webster was applauded by members of the inquiry and praised by Inquiry chairman, Sir Brian Langstaff, for remaining strong during his testimony.
Des Collins, senior partner at Collins Solicitors, said: “The pain of having been told at a young age that Gary had a death sentence hanging over him, and for 72 of his similarly-infected school friends to have since died is unimaginable.
“It is for Gary and hundreds more like him, as well as the families of those now deceased, that we will not rest until we see all contaminated blood victims properly compensated for their suffering and loss.”