The blood scandal destroyed my family: I spent one last holiday with my doomed brother and our cousin - then watched their horrific deaths

 Karen Merry, 53, tragically lost her brother Jason and cousin Stevie in their 20s Both men, who had haemophilia, were given contaminated blood as children  READ MORE: PM to apologise for worst treatment disaster in NHS history

To other holidaymakers on the beach, they were simply three young people enjoying the Tenerife sun.

Karen Merry, then 19, was there with her brother Jason and their cousin Stevie – both charismatic, handsome young men in their early 20s, who were as close as brothers.

The trio would spend their days soaking up the rays, then while away the warm evenings in the local bars.

'Jason and Stevie were both just so charming and fun, they bounced off each other – they were the life and soul of the party,' recalls Karen, now 53.

Yet the suntans and familial banter masked a terrible reality, and, for Karen, a burdening guilt which would creep up on her and literally 'punch her in the gut'.

Picture shows Jason Ward (right) aged 26 and Steven Marachel, 26, on holidays in 1990

Picture shows Jason Ward (right) aged 26 and Steven Marachel, 26, on holidays in 1990

Jason and Steven both went on a last holiday to Tenerife in 1990 (pcitured) with Karen, knowing they were tragically going to die

Jason and Steven both went on a last holiday to Tenerife in 1990 (pcitured) with Karen, knowing they were tragically going to die

Karen's (pictured this month) harrowing testimony, on how their happy, tight-knit family was decimated by the blood products, which were developed in the 70s and 80s to help haemophiliacs, formed part of the evidence given to the Infected Blood Inquiry

Karen's (pictured this month) harrowing testimony, on how their happy, tight-knit family was decimated by the blood products, which were developed in the 70s and 80s to help haemophiliacs, formed part of the evidence given to the Infected Blood Inquiry

For this trip was the last one the three would have together. Karen knew – and had known for many years – that she would outlive both of these men she loved so dearly.

She knew that she'd get to grow up, fall in love, maybe have children and even grandchildren; that she'd enjoy many more holidays and watch the sun set over other oceans – privileges denied to Jason and Stevie.

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For the two young men had been born with the hereditary blood clotting disorder, haemophilia, and had both fallen victim to the infected blood scandal which is now being called 'the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS'.

Along with around 30,000 others in the UK, they were given contaminated clotting products as children and were infected with HIV and the hepatitis C virus.

Knowing their days were tragically numbered, and with Jason developing Aids, they'd hurriedly booked the trip to Tenerife in January 1990.

'It was something we wanted to do, just the three of us,' says Karen. 'We all knew why we were there, but everyone put on a brave face and tried to make the most of it.

'We made a lot of memories, had a lot of funny moments and spent a lot of time just being together. It's something I will always cherish.

'But it was really hard... I would lose myself in the moment, I'd be smiling and happy and then I'd suddenly feel guilty. 

'I didn't have the same problems as them, I was healthy and could do what I wanted.

'In a way, I felt like this was my punishment... that I would be the one to watch them each go through this horrific death and be left behind.'

Jason, pictured months before he died, with nurses at St George's Hospital in Tooting, aged 22

Jason, pictured months before he died, with nurses at St George's Hospital in Tooting, aged 22

Karen, pictured with her brother Jason in 1971, knew his days were tragically numbered after being given the contaminated blood as a child

Karen, pictured with her brother Jason in 1971, knew his days were tragically numbered after being given the contaminated blood as a child

Karen was right. Within months of their poignant trip, Jason was dead at 22, with Stevie dying three years later at 27.

Her harrowing testimony, on how their happy, tight-knit family was decimated by the blood products, which were developed in the 70s and 80s to help haemophiliacs, formed part of the evidence given to the Infected Blood Inquiry.

The hearing was told how the UK had imported the product from America, where it was made from blood serum collected from high-risk donors, such as prison inmates and drug users, who were paid for their donations.

It meant if just one donor was carrying a virus, a whole batch would be contaminated.

Jason and Stevie had inherited haemophilia from their maternal grandfather.

The condition renders sufferers' blood incapable of clotting properly, meaning the smallest cut can lead to profuse bleeding.

Karen, pictured with Jason, hopes Monday's long-awaited final report of the Infected Blood Inquiry will give her and her mother some closure

Karen, pictured with Jason, hopes Monday's long-awaited final report of the Infected Blood Inquiry will give her and her mother some closure

Growing up, the two cousins bonded over their frequent visits to hospital. They'd welcomed the arrival of the new clotting product, Factor VIII, in the 80s which allowed them to inject themselves at home.

At 17, Stevie even appeared in a promotional video in 1983 demonstrating how the product had changed his life.

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Not long afterwards, Jason – who was two years younger – was summoned with his mother Christine to a doctor's appointment where they were told, brutally and without any warning, that he had HIV (the virus that causes Aids).

'HIV was a relatively new thing back then,' Karen said. 'The prognosis was that Jason would 'probably die' and it was left to our mother to deal with it.

'There were no answers about how, where or when Jason had become infected.

'There was fear, stigma and misinformation ... it was thought back then that you could catch HIV from drinking from the same cup.'

Karen, who was 13 at the time, has no recollection of being told of Jason's condition or that Stevie, who found out he was infected shortly after, had suffered the same fate.

'I think in a way I've just blocked that all out. It was like time kind of stopped... these were two boys who I loved so much.'

While Jason tried to protect his younger sister, Karen vividly remembers the moment she realised the jarring reality of her brother's illness.

One afternoon soon after being told of his diagnosis, Jason was preparing his Factor VIII in the family home in Croydon when Karen, like she had so many times before, offered to help.

'I remember he suddenly started shouting at me to get back. He never ever reacted in that way ... but I could see the fear in him and he wanted me to stay away from the needle.'

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So great was the stigma attached to HIV at the time, the family had tried to keep news of Jason's diagnosis within the family, but it was not long before children at his school found out.

Back then, the message everyone was getting was that HIV and Aids were associated with promiscuous gay sex and drug addicts.

'The kids started calling Jason gay and they would say not to touch him. They treated him like a leper. It was hard to see someone you love being treated like that.'

The strain affected the rest of the family, too: Christine was overcome with guilt while Karen's father, George, turned to drink.

It wasn't long before their marriage imploded.

For several years Jason remained in reasonably good health.

He trained as a hairdresser, like Stevie, and tried to remain stoic and live 'his best life'.

'He didn't really let me see how he was feeling. He was always the older brother who was looking out for me.'

Aged 20, however, Jason started to show the symptoms of Aids, meaning their roles were about to change.

Not long after their holiday to Tenerife, the family honoured Jason's final wish to visit the Disney World in Florida.

'My mum and dad were divorced by then but we all went together. Jason was really ill and you could see every bone in his face.

'He had always had this lovely hair but he was practically bald and was in a wheelchair.'

When they returned, it soon became apparent Jason needed full-time care.

With a good job as an office manager, and the family's breadwinner, Christine couldn't afford to give up work, so Karen took time off from her factory job to look after her brother.

'I'm blessed to have had that special little bit of time with him,' she says. 'But it just became too much for me.'

It was not long before Jason was admitted to hospital, and he died a week later, on July 24, 1990.

Karen with her cousin Stevie, who had inherited haemophilia from their maternal grandfather

Karen with her cousin Stevie, who had inherited haemophilia from their maternal grandfather

In his final weeks, he had a heart-to-heart with his father. 'Jason just said, 'Dad, you've got to stop drinking and look after Mum and Karen',' his sister recalls.

George immediately stopped. And it was not long before his parents, in the midst of their grief, found their way back to each other, eventually remarrying and staying together until George passed away in 2015, aged 68.

'I don't think they ever stopped loving each other and I think they were the only people in the world who understood what each other were going through,' Karen said.

'In a way it was Jason's parting gift to them, he would have loved that they ended up together.'

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She says she is haunted by memories of Stevie breaking down as he said his final goodbyes to Jason at his funeral.

'Everyone had left after the service and Stevie just sat there weeping.

He kept saying, 'Don't worry, bro, I'm going to be with you soon, you're not going to be on your own'. It was the most heart-breaking thing I've ever seen.

'Stevie really went downhill after that. He just didn't care any more.

'You can't imagine how he must have been feeling living with that horrible fear.' Stevie died a few weeks before Christmas in 1993.

Karen went on to marry, in 2001, and had two children, but the marriage was not a happy one, and they divorced six years later.

Her 28-year-old son, Stan, is a haemophiliac and was diagnosed at birth.

Thankfully, blood clotting medication today is properly screened and treated to eliminate any risk of viruses.

Karen hopes today's long-awaited final report of the Infected Blood Inquiry will give her and her mother some closure.

'Nothing will ever put right what's happened, but we need justice, we need to know people are held accountable,' she said.

'There has been a cloud hanging over us these years and we just want it over with.'

 

Prime Minister's apology for worst treatment disaster in NHS history.. as devastating report will lay bare failing over infected blood scandal that's claimed 3,000 lives

Rishi Sunak will apologise to infected-blood victims today, as a devastating report blames successive governments and the NHS for the scandal.

The Prime Minister will issue a formal apology on behalf of the Government for the handling of a scandal which has claimed more than 3,000 lives and continues to wreck countless others.

Tomorrow ministers will set out plans for a massive compensation scheme, which could cost taxpayers more than £10 billion.

Whitehall sources expect NHS chief Amanda Pritchard to issue her own apology for the worst treatment disgrace in the history of the health service.

The moves come as former High Court judge Sir Brian Langstaff today publishes the long-awaited findings of a public inquiry which was launched in 2018, with an estimated 710 more victims having died since the hearings began.

Rishi Sunak will issue a formal apology on behalf of the Government for the handling of a scandal which has claimed more than 3,000 lives and continues to wreck countless others

Rishi Sunak will issue a formal apology on behalf of the Government for the handling of a scandal which has claimed more than 3,000 lives and continues to wreck countless others

Both the Department of Health and the NHS are expected to face heavy criticism for continuing to allow the use of imported blood products for years after the first warnings that they could be contaminated with viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C.

They will also be savaged for their evasive response to campaigners seeking the truth, in what victims believe to have been a concerted cover-up lasting decades.

More than 30,000 people in the UK were infected with HIV and hepatitis C at the hands of the NHS after being given contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

The tainted products were imported cheaply from the US where blood was being collected from paid donors such as prisoners, the homeless and drug addicts.

Most of those infected were people who received treatment for blood disorders such as haemophilia and those who had blood transfusions.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt described the episode as 'the worst scandal of my lifetime' and said the families 'have got every right to be incredibly angry'

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt described the episode as 'the worst scandal of my lifetime' and said the families 'have got every right to be incredibly angry'

Kate Burt, chief executive of the Haemophilia Society, said: 'The contaminated blood scandal has been a stain on our nation for too long.

'For the sake of the thousands of lives lost to this disaster, the Government must accept all the Infected Blood Inquiry's recommendations and begin work immediately to rebuild trust in our public services.

'Only a commitment to deliver radical reform and to treat those it serves with compassion and respect will begin to end this shameful episode in our country's history.'

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt yesterday described the episode as 'the worst scandal of my lifetime' and said the families 'have got every right to be incredibly angry that generations of politicians, including me when I was health secretary, have not acted fast enough to address the scandal'.

Mr Hunt has signed off on the compensation scheme, although the final bill will not be known until a new committee has established a framework for payments.

Labour health spokesman Wes Streeting said he expected Sir Brian to criticise 'successive governments' over the issue.

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Mr Streeting said an incoming Labour administration would honour any compensation deal agreed by the Government, adding: 'Everyone has got their responsibility to bear in this appalling scandal and we have got a shared responsibility to put it right.'

Writing in the Sunday Times, Sir Keir Starmer said the scandal was 'one of the darkest periods in our country's modern history' and a reminder that 'the NHS is not a shrine to be worshipped at'.

Downing Street was tight-lipped about the content of the PM's response last night, but he is expected to apologise on behalf of the Government.

Appearing in front of the inquiry last summer, the PM said the 'appalling tragedy' should never have happened.

Lauren Palmer, who was orphaned by the scandal aged just nine, said she was 'still sceptical' about the Government's commitment to compensate all those affected.

'If they do, the other question is how long will they take and will they use the election to drag things out further or even worse not do anything at all?'

The scandal began in the early 1970s when new blood clotting products were developed to treat people with bleeding disorders.

A shortage of blood in the UK led ministers to source cheap batches from the US where supplies relied on high-risk donors, including drug addicts.

But the products were made by pooling the blood plasma from tens of thousands of donors and a single contaminated donation could be enough to infect an entire batch.

By the mid-1970s there were repeated warnings that the US products carried an increased risk.

Appearing in front of the Infected Blood Inquiry last summer, the Prime Minister said the 'appalling tragedy' should never have happened. Pictured: Protesters outside the inquiry

Appearing in front of the Infected Blood Inquiry last summer, the Prime Minister said the 'appalling tragedy' should never have happened. Pictured: Protesters outside the inquiry

The inquiry heard that by 1983, Department of Health doctors acknowledged privately that it 'may be possible' that Aids was being transmitted in this way. But the inquiry was told that ministers were not informed and continued to insist publicly that there was 'no conclusive proof' of a problem.

About 6,000 people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were treated with contaminated products.

Around 1,250 were infected with HIV, including 380 children. Some unintentionally infected their partners. Fewer than 250 are still alive.

Others hit by the scandal include thousands given blood transfusions between 1970 and 1991.

High-profile victims include Body Shop founder Anita Roddick and Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies's mother Sheila, who both contracted hepatitis C following transfusions of infected blood.

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