My name is Sue Threakall, and my husband, Bob Threakall, died on 20th February, 1991. He died just as the snow was melting and daffodils were coming through. He never saw the Spring.
Following his death – a death for which we were largely unprepared, and had no idea would happen that soon – hospital staff covered his emaciated body with a horrible old-fashioned quilt; an attempt to care for him and make things more palatable, I think. Odd, really, because earlier that day when he had uncontrollable diarrhoea, we could have done with some help, but hey, most of us involved with this inquiry knew better than to expect too many personal touches for an AIDS victim in 1991.
Following his death he was put into a body bag. We didn’t get to see that bit, but then we had no choice, no control, and no information. The next day we asked to see his body in the hospital mortuary. We’d have had more success had we asked to dance the Tango on top of him. After the intervention of a family friend who wouldn’t take no for an answer, we were allowed in – but only if we agreed to have the body bag unzipped as far as chest level, and no further.
He looked horrendous. Eyes still open, as I expect closing them would have involved too much personal intervention. Unwashed, hair unbrushed. Someone had tried to make the whole ghastly scene better by putting a nasty cardboard ruff round his neck. I remember thinking it looked really uncomfortable, as well as faintly ridiculous.
So…not great. Not great at all. In fact it was like something ripped from a Hammer House of Horror film. But you know what? Since becoming involved with haemophilia campaign group TaintedBood, I have heard worse – so, so much worse. In doing so I have been privileged to know some of the kindest, bravest individuals you could hope to meet, but who belong to a group of utterly traumatised, damaged people. Damage that started all those years ago, but which has been compounded time and time again by the way we have all been treated at the hands of government and others. Our lives could have been so much easier, our grief so much less harrowing, had those who were – and are – responsible for what happened – not spent decade after decade trying to cover up what they did and didn’t do, and doing their best to portray us to the general public as a group of ungrateful whingers.
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Granted, it was fairly early on when a support network of sorts began to materialise. You would expect that these people, many of whom were, and are, highly-paid, and whose sole responsibility was to support us, would do just that, wouldn’t you? Well no, that’s not how it went at all. The support groups themselves have been directly responsible for humiliating victims, causing untold distress, and making people beg – literally beg – for help.
A few years ago, a group of us were sent copies of a series of emails between trustees of one of these support groups. We were later asked to delete them from our hard drives, which we did. This followed the CEO of the group travelling hundreds of miles to apologise in person to the family of one victim for the emails’ content.
You see, in the exchanges, we, as a community of around 1,200 co-infected haemophiliacs and their families were referred to as ‘the great unwashed’. Two individuals – brothers, both co-infected, both now deceased – were referred to as the ‘Welsh Terrorists’. The new partner of one victim, whose marriage had broken down through stress, was described as his ‘squeeze’.
Let me tell you now that this community of people, thrown together by a common scandal, are not ‘the great unwashed’. This is a group that represents a complete cross-section of our society today. They are brave, dignified and strong, and to be treated this way is unforgivable. Nor were the two brothers terrorists, though their Welshness cannot be denied! No, they were gutsy, intelligent, men who worked with us for justice up until the day they both died. They were our friends and we loved and miss them. Nor is it acceptable to describe any new partner as a ‘squeeze’. Many relationships have struggled under the strain and some didn’t make it, but as in the rest of life some people have managed to find a new partner, and these are usually strong, brave individuals who know that they are taking on challenges that should never have existed.
My hope is that this inquiry will spend as long as it needs tying together our massive evidence-base, and working out exactly what happened. I hope that all those who have so far refused to give evidence will be made to, and will be held in contempt of court if they don’t. I hope that the inquiry will see though pleas of ‘failing memory/it was a long time ago’. It was, but we remember it as if it was yesterday.
I hope very much that the inquiry will, at an early stage, tackle head-on the aspect of financial support, in order that victims can at least be made financially secure and able to focus on the inquiry itself.
I hope that those of us who, over the years, have told our stories, will finally be vindicated, so that people know what was done to this small, finite group of vulnerable, disabled people. Only when the truth is known can we have any confidence that it will not happen again.
Bob’s last words to me were ‘Is it sorted?’. I would like, before I get too old, to take flowers to where his ashes were scattered – something I have never felt able to do – and tell him yes; yes, it’s sorted. Sir Brian, we all look to you to sort it.
This post was submitted as Sue Threakall’s opening statement to the ongoing inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal.