A public inquiry into a national scandal when thousands of people were given infected blood products has started.
Thousands of haemophiliacs and other hospital patients were given blood products infected with hepatitis C and HIV in the 1970s and 1980s, with around 2,400 people left dead.
North East victims include Peter Longstaff, from Hartlepool, who died at the age of 47 in 2005 after contracting hepatitis C and HIV from contaminated blood.
As hearings began in central London yesterday, the Government announced extra money would go to thousands of people affected by the medical catastrophe.
In an opening statement to the inquiry, chair Sir Brian Langstaff said it would put people at its heart.
Sir Brian said: “Today is a significant day for the inquiry.
“It’s the day we first hear evidence given orally. Thank you for being here in such numbers to take part in it, and by your presence in such numbers to demonstrate the importance of this inquiry.”
He thanked those who had volunteered statements, adding: “I have already read a large number more than once, some a number of times.
“Some are harrowing; some incredibly moving; and some chillingly factual. All are valuable. There are more to come.”
Sir Brian thanked the press for being at the inquiry and urged it to report ‘fairly and fearlessly’.
He said: “I hope that while doing that they may help to spread the message that those who are struggling with the infections of HIV or hepatitis through blood or blood products are not alone.”
The contaminated blood scandal has been labelled the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS.
Counsel to the inquiry, Jenni Richards QC, said: “The scale of this inquiry is unprecedented.
“It’s been referred to as the biggest public inquiry the United Kingdom has ever undertaken.”
So far the inquiry has received approximately 1,200 witness statements from individuals who were infected or affected.
It is expected to receive at least a further 1,200 statements over the coming months.
Ms Richards said it is likely that thousands of people may still be unaware that they have been infected.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced regular annual payments for some of those infected will increase, from a total of £46 million to £75 million.
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The contaminated blood scandal was a tragedy that should never have happened and has caused unimaginable pain and hurt for victims and their families for decades.”