Ex-model seeks Hep C compensation

23 November 2010, 05:52 | Updated: 23 November 2010, 05:56

A former model infected with hepatitis C after being given a blood transfusion more than 20 years ago is taking her long-running battle for compensation to the High Court.

Sharon Moore's legal challenge, if successful, could be of significance to many others also denied pay-outs.

Ms Moore, 50, from Dunstable in Bedfordshire, was among thousands accidentally given contaminated NHS blood supplies in the mid-1980s.

Ms Moore received the transfusion at Luton and Dunstable Hospital in June 1987 after collapsing with severe anaemia caused by ulcerative colitis, an inflammation of the intestines.

It was not until March 1998, almost 11 years later, that the National Blood Service wrote to her GP and Ms Moore was told that she may have been infected with hepatitis C.

Her lawyers say she underwent tests and had to wait six weeks before being told the virus had cleared her system naturally at some point since 1987.

But she was also warned there was an increased risk of developing liver cancer and variant CJD because of the contaminated blood.

Her claim for compensation was rejected on three occasions by the Skipton Fund, the body responsible for administering the Government's compensation scheme.

The claim was thrown out on the grounds that she could not prove the hepatitis virus was in her system for more than six months.

Her third claim was rejected in May 2009 by the fund's appeal panel.

Her lawyers say the rejection was despite new evidence from a leading hepatitis C expert that there was no way she could have known when the virus was ``spontaneously cleared'' from her body.

Ms Moore, who has suffered depression as a result of her experiences, is challenging the fairness of the appeal panel's decision.

Her legal team will also ask Mr Justice Kenneth Parker, sitting at London's High Court, to quash the Skipton Fund criterion requiring applicants to prove persistence of infection beyond six months in order to qualify for compensation.

Ms Moore, who was also diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994, said: ``The last few years have been incredibly difficult for me.

``The truth is that I was the victim of a dreadful error and I have waited a long time for my day in court to try and achieve justice over this.

``To be still fighting for justice more than 20 years after the initial error seems to me to be very unfair because my infection was completely outside of my control, and I was not even made aware of it until 11 years later.''

Ms Moore said she had been turned down for a job with the police due to her hepatitis C infection.

She believes that, because she now has to disclose her medical history on applications for insurance, she has been disadvantaged.

Andrew Lockley, head of public law at Irwin Mitchell, the solicitors firm acting for Ms Moore, said: ``This case is about the simple principle of fair play.

``Ms Moore understandably feels that she and others in the same position should be entitled to compensation from the state for the state's mistake in recognition of the problems she has suffered and continues to suffer as a result of being infected with HCV more than 20 years ago.

``The Skipton Fund was set up by the Government to help victims like Ms Moore and yet the criteria for payment make it impossible for her to qualify.

``This is a very important case for Ms Moore but it's also hugely important for many other innocent victims who have been denied their access to justice over a dreadful error which affected them and their lives but was completely beyond their control.''

Chris James from the Haemophilia Society, said the significance of today's application for judicial review went well beyond those exposed to hepatitis C from contaminated blood transfusions.

Mr James said: ``We estimate that around half of these families have received no payment at all under the existing rules of the Skipton Fund.

``The judicial review holds out hope to hundreds, if not thousands, of our members that they may soon be entitled to this basic financial recognition of the infections and the suffering caused,'' he said.