Labour fury as minister unable to say whether contaminated blood scandal documents destroyed after IT blunder

Posted On: 
19th October 2018

Labour has demanded answers after it emerged two government departments may have destroyed key documents in the contaminated blood inquiry.

An IT blunder was revealed in a written statement from Cabinet Office minister David Lidington.

An estimated 2,800 people are thought to have died as a result of the NHS giving blood infected with HIV and Hepatitis C to patients throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

A major public inquiry is now underway into Whitehall and the health service's handling of the scandal, which Theresa May has called an "appalling tragedy which should never have happened".

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But Cabinet Office minister David Lidington has now revealed that two departments are still trawling their records to find out whether crucial documents have been destroyed.

The admission came in a written statement setting out how an April 3 Cabinet Office email asking departments "to preserve all information relevant to the Infected Blood Inquiry" had not been sent "due to the failure of the collective IT address used".

A follow-up email was not sent until June 11, the statement confirmed.

Although Mr Lidington stressed that the blunder had "resulted in no actual harm", he revealed that two major departments were still trying to find out whether key records had been destroyed before the error was spotted.

He said: "Since the error was discovered, all relevant departments and relevant areas within departments have worked urgently to confirm that they have not destroyed any documents relevant to the Inquiry during the period between 3rd April and 11th June.

"Because of their size and the complexity of some of the records they hold, HM Courts and Tribunals Service and the Legal Aid Agency are continuing to work to provide this assurance and have committed to doing so as urgently as possible."

Seizing on the admission, Labour's Cat Smith said the Government appeared "to have done everything in its power to undermine" the ongoing inquiry.

The Shadow Cabinet Office minister told PoliticsHome: "First it was the legal aid fiasco, with many of those affected still being denied the proper support, and now we are being told there is a risk crucial files could have been deleted because of something as basic as not sending an email.

"We need to know for certain whether any important records were destroyed, but serious questions still remain about the Government's ability to handle this extremely sensitive and important issue."

The Department of Health and Social Care imposed a ban on the destruction of any historical records when the contaminated blood inquiry was announced in July 2017.

Mr Lidington said: "No material damage has resulted from this administrative error, but I am very sorry it occurred, and I would like to reassure the public that the Cabinet Office will learn the lessons from this to avoid such an error occurring in future."