A man whose father died of AIDS after receiving tainted blood products said his family had been forced to keep the nature of his illness a secret for fear of being stigmatised.
Mark Donnelly, whose father Peter died in 1989 at the age of 50 after contracting HIV, was giving evidence at the infected blood inquiry in Belfast.
Peter, a severe haemophiliac, was one of thousands of people across the UK infected with HIV or hepatitis C from contaminated blood products during the 1970s and 80s. Some 2000 are thought to have died as a result.
Giving compelling testimony during the final day of witness hearings in Belfast, Mr Donnelly told how his mother had wrongly blamed herself for her husband’s death.
She was consumed by guilt and driven to alcohol dependency, which eventually claimed her life at the age of 58, the inquiry heard.
He added that his father had been “murdered by lethal injection of contaminated blood products”.
“Someone was to blame,” he said.
“Should it be a pharmaceutical CEO who made a decision to buy cheap blood from prisons, or perhaps a government minister who looked the other way while infected blood products were dished out on their watch, or maybe a doctor who prescribed blood products knowing the increased dangers and chance of infection. These are all very distinct possibilities,” he added.
“One thing I know for certain is that my mother was not to blame. Knowing what I know now, I can’t help but wonder if the truth was told from the beginning, would my mother have felt as guilty and would she possibly be still alive today.”
The inquiry heard that, soon after his father had been diagnosed with HIV, Mr Donnelly’s family moved from a housing estate in Armagh to a row of cottages in the countryside.
He said he believed this was due to his parents’ fear that someone would find out about his father’s illness.
After his father died, Mr Donnelly said his remains were not brought back to the family home, but were instead kept in a chapel the night before he was buried.
He feels this was his mother’s way of “avoiding questions” about why it was a closed coffin.
He also recalled how – in a bid to prevent the truth from getting out – one relative suggested his mother should tell people Peter had died of cancer.
Mr Donnelly added: “The secret that was forced upon my family, which has lasted to this very day, could most certainly have been avoided.
“It should never have been our secret to keep. This secret belongs solely to the NHS, the government and the pharmaceutical companies.
“Thanks to this inquiry, neither I nor my family have to keep this secret anymore.”