A Week In The Life: Jessica
Written by Jessica Bomford, February 10, 2023
As part of a series featuring staff at the Haemophilia Society, Jessica Bomford, our Public Inquiry Communications Manager, describes her work at the last week of the Infected Blood Inquiry.
Almost four years since the Infected Blood Inquiry began its public hearings, we’re only four days away from their end. I think back to that first hearing in April 2019. For many, it was the first time they’d met anyone who’d been through the same experiences. There was uncertainty, but optimism, about what this process would bring. The evidence we heard from people infected and their families during those first few months was painful, sad, raw and indescribably brave. It will stay with me forever.
My job is to keep our members and the wider world updated on inquiry evidence, as well as to liaise with the media to get as much coverage as possible. The more attention we get, the more pressure there is on government to act. It’s also important to try to raise awareness among the public too – it still surprises me that some people have never heard of the contaminated blood scandal. How can this be possible after 40 years of campaigning? When the inquiry is sitting, I live tweet the key points to our followers who include campaigners, journalists and lawyers. I also post updates on each session of evidence on our dedicated Facebook page to help people keep up to date with the evidence and connect with others who are infected and affected. I probably write an average of between 2-3,000 words a day. At a conservative estimate that’s at least 500,000 words over the last four years! But then again, there’s been so much to say.
At lunchtime there’s an impromptu presentation of gifts to thank to inquiry staff for their kindness and support. It’s thoroughly deserved, they have all helped to make the inquiry a safe, respectful and compassionate space in which to meet. There are tears and hugs. It’s going to be an emotional week.
I put the final touches on our press release and get it signed off by our senior team. This goes to all national print and broadcast journalists and will hopefully result in more publicity for the inquiry. As well as highlighting the end of the inquiry, we want to focus on all those who didn’t survive to tell their story. We calculate that at least 500 people infected by contaminated blood and blood products have died since the inquiry was announced in 2017. At short notice, the BBC wants to film today, so it’s a quick scramble to get hold of our Chair, Clive Smith for an interview. Most media work is done at the last minute, so we’re used to reacting quickly.
This evening, I phone a member who’s considering speaking to the media. I explain what’s involved and he tells me his story. He’s one of the ‘lucky ones’, he says, as he was ‘only’ infected with hepatitis C. But as he explains the secrets he has had to keep from his employer and closest family because of his infection he begins to cry, surprising himself at the depth of his feelings, I think. We owe a huge debt to everyone who feels able to speak out publicly about what happened to them, but that’s only part of this story. Years of stigma and prejudice mean many of our members are unable to talk about their experiences. Theirs is a lonely suffering, which must be recognised.
The last day of the inquiry. I arrive early as Clive has an interview with Channel 5 News and I know there will be lots of media enquiries. Our Chief Executive, Kate Burt, is also primed for interviews. The BBC, Sky News, ITV and Channel 4 are all running reports and I’m contacted by a number of producers who all want people to interview. I dash round the room, asking people if they’d be prepared to talk about their experiences. As always, brave people step forward, willing to explain to strangers what’s happened to them and what they hope the inquiry will achieve.
When Sir Brian Langstaff, Chair of the inquiry, enters the hearing room for the last time everyone stands as a mark of respect. It’s a powerful moment which demonstrates the great trust and confidence many have in his ability to deliver a final report which will uncover the truth.
Sir Brian’s final remarks are a firm reminder that, like him, our work goes on. There’s to be an interim report on compensation – hopefully within the next eight weeks – and we are moving ever closer to his final report, due to be published in autumn 2023.
Amid the buzz and busyness, there’s a sadness that this process is coming to an end. It has been an enormous privilege to get to know so many of our community who have been through so much.
Thank you to everyone who I’ve met at the inquiry or who has contacted me about our inquiry work. I hope Sir Brian’s report brings the answers and recognition that you so wholeheartedly deserve.
Follow the progress of the inquiry through the Haemophilia Society’s dedicated Twitter account or join our Facebook page for updates on news and information relating to the Infected Blood Inquiry. If you have any questions about what happens next at the Infected Blood Inquiry, call our team on 0207 9390780.