Blood inquiry turns focus to school where dozens were infected

Former pupils of Treloar College in Hampshire in 1970s and 80s to give evidence and demand accountability

“Every time we meet, in the back of our mind we remember the school friends that should be there with us,” says Richard Warwick, one of scores of people with haemophilia who attended Treloar College in Hampshire in the 1970s and 80s. “It’s hard to comprehend, we’ve been to hell and back.”

By the time he left the specialist boarding school in 1982 he had been infected with hepatitis C and HIV through contaminated blood products, and yet he describes himself as lucky because unlike many of his fellow pupils, he is still alive.

This week the infected blood inquiry, investigating what has been called the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS, will focus on Treloar and the devastating legacy of its onsite NHS-operated haemophilia centre.

The inquiry has previously heard that 89 haemophiliac pupils were offered treatment onsite, of whom all were infected with hepatitis B and C, 64 contracted HIV and only 16 are still alive.

Warwick at age 11
Warwick at age 11. Photograph: Supplied

Warwick, who started at Treloar in 1976, aged 11, says surviving pupils have kept their own tally, estimating there were between 120 and 130 haemophiliacs, with 72 known to have died, 31 known to be alive and the rest unaccounted for. Either way, it is a grim toll.

Like other haemophiliacs affected by the contaminated blood scandal – a total of 3,000 are believed to have died – they were infected after being given contaminated factor VIII blood products imported from the US in the 1970s and 80s.

“The worst thing for me about the whole Treloar incident was actually seeing your classmates not turning up the next morning in a class, and you’d ask where they were and [be told] ‘they’re dead’ – it was as cold as that,” says Warwick, now 55. “I’m lucky in a way.”

But Warwick suffers from pain, mood swings and epilepsy believed to be linked to HIV and “survivor’s guilt”. He was only informed of his HIV-positive status in 1988, 10 years after he believes he was infected. When his wife became pregnant the following year, she had an abortion after doctors warned of the risks to the unborn child.

Warwick gave evidence to the inquiry in 2019. Among those giving evidence this week are Gary Webster, who was in his school year and dorm, and Alec Macpherson, the headteacher of Treloar between 1974 and 1990.

In his written statement to the inquiry, Webster recalled the moment, aged 17, that he and a classmate were told they were HIV-positive. “[A doctor] said: ‘You have HIV. We are not sure of the implications but what we can say is it is incurable and we cannot guarantee that you will be alive in six to 12 months.’” Webster said he and his classmate “just looked at each other in disbelief and then we laughed [through shock]”.

For Warwick, this week is a chance to amplify their stories and their decades-long fight for justice. “Someone signed on the dotted line to import all this rubbish from the States, he said. “Overall 3,000 have died – not just Treloar lads, that’s tragic enough, but 3,000 people across the UK have died, haemophiliacs. It eclipses every other quote-unquote scandal like Hillsborough, if you add them all together. We want accountability.”

Contributor

Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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