in the back
Loan wolves
Tainted blood, Issue 1490
blood.jpg SOME haemophiliac victims of the contaminated blood scandal of the 1970s and 1980s are in deep hock to the very charities set up to offer them help and financial support, it has emerged.

Some are effectively trapped in their own homes – unable to move or do what they want with them – because of charges placed on their properties many years ago by the Macfarlane Trust (MFT), but now in the hands of the Terrence Higgins Trust.

The Macfarlane Trust was set up in 1988 to help the 1,250 haemophiliacs who were infected with HIV from cheap NHS imported blood-clotting products. (Only around 250 are still alive.) As Eye readers know, another 3,750 haemophiliacs were subsequently found to be infected with another deadly virus, Hep C.

The MFT offered practical support, made ex gratia monthly payments and handed out emergency grants for those in need. But it has now emerged that the charity sometimes refused to grant requests, instead offering loans or entering into equity deals with sick or often desperate recipients, who were unlikely ever to be able to repay them – something its own solicitors in 1998 suggested might be unlawful.

One such recipient was Clair Walton, who had asked MFT in 1989 for an increase in her monthly payments to make ends meet when her young haemophiliac husband, Bryan, was dying. Instead, the MFT paid off a £50,000 chunk of the couple’s mortgage in return for a share in their property.

Cynical memo
Clair was clearly very vulnerable, having also been diagnosed with HIV after being infected by her husband. She has not been able to obtain the original MFT documentation, but has unearthed a cynical internal MFT memo about the arrangement, stating that the trust was more “likely to regain capital in the shorter term” because both husband and wife were infected and “there are no children”. She told the Eye: “We were a young couple who had just had our world destroyed, losing our health, the chance to have a family – and we were being used to create a profit for the MFT.”

Similarly, another Macfarlane “beneficiary”, “Adrian”, now aged 54, was given a £10,000 loan for much-needed home improvements when he had been told – and believed – that he was “dying from Aids”. With advances in treatment both Clair and Adrian have survived, but so have their liabilities.

Because MFT’s “loan register” was lost, it is unclear how many similar deals were entered into. It is known that some were written off; but despite the intervention of MPs and campaigners the MFT has consistently refused to “right the wrong” in 11 cases. When Clair asked for the charge on her property to be removed, she was accused by MFT of “wanting her cake and eating it”.

‘Gift of deed’
It had been hoped the slate would finally be wiped clean when the MFT was wound up last year along with four similar charities, when the government streamlined payments to contaminated blood victims under the new England Infected Blood Support Scheme (EIBSS).

But no. Despite the MFT apparently distributing £435,000 in new grants from its reserves to some HIV survivors earlier last year, the Eye has been told that loans and charges – as well as £800,000 – were passed under a “gift of deed” to the Terrence Higgins Trust. The charity has wasted no time in registering its interest in the properties.

The Terrence Higgins Trust declined to answer questions from the Eye and instead issued a statement from its chief executive, Ian Green. He said: “We are aware of the concerns around loans and our trustees will be considering a robust process for reviewing these.” He added the charity would be “embarking on a process of engagement with Macfarlane beneficiaries” and would not want to pre-empt the best course of action.

Sir Brian Langstaff, who chairs the long overdue public inquiry into the infected blood scandal, has already written to the government after only a few preliminary hearings urging it to take “decisive action at the earliest opportunity” over financial support to victims and families. In other words, it should not wait for the conclusion of his inquiry, which could take years.

Last month, Eye 1487 highlighted how a widow was left literally penniless when the £18,000-a-year support money paid to her sick husband ended with his death, and she could not access a one-off widow’s grant. Sir Brian’s pleas clearly fell on deaf ears.

More top stories in the latest issue:

CREAKING HAVOC
The system is creaking as universal credit case managers struggle to cope with the pressure of massive caseloads, threatening disaster for claimants.

PATHOLOGICAL FLYER
The three shortlisted private lab companies bidding for a £2.2bn hospital pathology contract make for a troublesome trio.

DIDN’T SHE DO WELL!
Post Office chief exec Paula Vennells, who presided over the cover-up of flaws in the dodgy Horizon computer system, is appointed to advise the Cabinet Office!

ALTERED STATE
Pubco giant Ei threatens to evict a tenant publican over alterations made to his pub without planning permission, most of which had been made long before he took over.

DEVON TEASE
Five years on from promises to ensure the main rail line from London to Penzance doesn’t fall into the sea again, there’s little sign work will start any time soon.

HOME TRUTHS
As police and regulators investigate 13 deaths and allegations of neglect at care homes run by Sussex Health Care, watchdogs issue new warnings about two of its homes.

HALF MARKS
The property company set up to find land and buildings for free schools has missed targets – but its boss still gets a hefty bonus.

CREDIT RATING
Universities that scrap academics’ jobs will still be able to submit their work to boost their own research ratings, under new research assessment rules.

DELOITTE IN COURT
A court case pitting a businessman fleeced by Barclays against Deloitte, which benefitted from the collapse of his company, threatens to reveal the depths to which accountants will sink in the interests of their City clients.

To read all these stories in full, please buy issue 1490 of Private Eye - you can subscribe here and have the magazine delivered to your home every fortnight.

Next issue on sale: 5th March 2019
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Private Eye Issue 1489