Steve Dymond obituary

Other lives: Academic whose brilliant career as a linguist was cut short

Steve Dymond, who has died aged 62 of total organ failure, was a warm, funny, modest intellectual unlucky enough to be born with haemophilia. He was even more unlucky to be infected with hepatitis C by the contaminated Factor VIII blood product that he was given on the NHS in the 1970s. Of the 4,800 British haemophiliacs infected with the product – much of it bought on the cheap from high-risk American jails – half have subsequently died.

I met Steve, a tall, handsome man with a quiet voice and an understated eloquence, two years ago when investigating the contaminated blood scandal. We bonded over movies and Gerry Gow (a notoriously tough midfield enforcer who played for Bristol City and Manchester City), and Steve quickly became a friend.

Born in Exeter, Steve and his family moved to Bristol when he was 10 and he went to Bristol grammar school, where, before being diagnosed with haemophilia, he was in the rugby team.

His older brother, Howard, also a haemophiliac, died in hospital at the age of 15 after a post-operative haemorrhage in 1969. Their parents considered haemophilia to be a stigma, and never accepted that the condition killed Howard, who was cremated on Steve’s 13th birthday – something that marked Steve for life, and he grew up estranged from his family.

A top scholar and linguist, Steve read Russian and English at the University of Exeter, graduating with distinction in 1977. At university he met his soulmate, Su Gorman, who became his wife in 1980.

Following graduation he taught Russian at Catford county school for girls, south London (1979-87), wrote the first Russian GCSE paper, was on a BBC advisory committee for its language-teaching programme, and was a language examiner in schools (1985-87).

Also a fluent French speaker, Steve went on to do an MA in business management in Lyon, and a PhD in cultural management in Paris (1987-89). He looked set for a brilliant career combining his language, teaching and management skills, and, after working for Cambridge University Press (1989-93) and at the chambers of commerce in Valence (1994) and Fréjus (1995), France, he was offered a prestigious job at the French ministry of culture.

The post would have involved splitting his time between Moscow and Paris, negotiating with the Moscow film studios for the Mosfilm archive at the time of the collapse of communism. But his health was not up to it. He had become lethargic, forgetful, distant. He briefly returned to teaching, but in 2003 had to take early retirement, too sick to work and still only in his mid-40s.

Su, a social worker, also gave up work to look after him. They campaigned for TaintedBlood, a pressure group fighting for justice for those affected by a scandal widely regarded as the worst in the history of the NHS.

Thankfully Steve lived to witness the opening of the public inquiry into the scandal last September. When asked what he hoped to get out of it, he said: “An expression of sincere contrition from those ultimately held responsible. A gesture of recognition of the cumulative atrocities inflicted on the lives of haemophiliacs, in the form of compensation. A calling to account where criminal liability and civil responsibility is established. And, finally, an explanation as to why it has taken so long to set up a full statutory public inquiry into this appalling scandal.”

A great source of pride to Steve and Su was Ken, who came to live with them when he was 16 and homeless, whom they regarded as their son, and went on to become one of the youngest headteachers in London. Steve is survived by Su and Ken, and Ken’s two sons.


Simon Hattenstone

The GuardianTramp

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