We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

50 years ago…

…America faked the first moon landing.

And I say: well done them. That can’t have been easy. What other country has faked a moon landing, eh? Take that Russia! And what about the Chinese? They can fake anything but not putting a man on the moon. Only America can do that. And not once either but, er, several times. Including one moonshot that “didn’t get there”. Now that’s attention to verisimilitude.

But seriously, consider what an impossibly complicated and expensive exercise faking the moon landing was. You need a big fucking rocket. And it’s got to go up. Quite a long way in fact. And in a straight line. And not blow up.

And then you’ve got to get people to talk about all the little details: command module, lunar module, re-entry, space suits.

Oh, and spare a thought for Hollywood’s contribution. People in space. People bouncing around on the “moon”. All done in an age before CGI. And making the Earth round just to keep the Spherical Earth lobby happy. And note how they got all the radio delays right. And they even mangled Armstrong’s “one small step” speech just so that 30 years later they could claim that transmissions were subject to “interference”.

But what’s really impressive is how they kept everybody quiet. 1969 America was a place where you couldn’t even drive off a bridge and kill your secretary without it being front page news. Home of the brave? Home of the blabbermouth more like. But they kept the faked moon landing hushed up. Neil Armstrong kept the secret to his grave. And the other astronauts, and the people at Mission Control, and the gazillions of engineers who “worked” on the rocket, the life-support systems, the navigation, the computers, the software. The material scientists. To buy all these people’s silence? Now, that must have cost a fortune.

Sometimes I think it would have been cheaper to have done it for real.

On a sound stage no one can hear you taking a dump

Ulster for Beginners – Part V

Self-determination

Ulster is British because that is what the majority of her citizens want. This has been shown time and time again in elections, referendums and opinion polls. [Although last time I looked it was getting pretty close in elections.]

In the most recent general election, in 1992, unionists of various descriptions won 13 of Ulster’s 17 seats and 64.7% of the vote. In 1973 the government held a referendum on Ulster’s future. 98.9% of those who voted voted for the continuance of the union. Much was made of the boycott of the poll by nationalists and the consequent low turnout of only 58.7%. As Morrison points out, the highest ever turnout in a Northern Ireland general election was 72%, so even if all those between 58.7% and 72% had voted for a united Ireland it would still have only represented about 14% of the total vote.

[That would be John Morrison who wrote “The Ulster Cover-up”.

I am not sure about the maths here.

There are all sorts of reasons to think that the turnout would be higher in a referendum where every vote counts. After all, there is less point in voting Conservative in a safe Labour seat than a marginal. Fortunately, we have the example of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement Referendum where the turnout was 81%.

So let us assume that without a boycott the Border poll would also have had an 81% turnout. Let us also assume that all the “extra” voters would have voted leave. Those who voted remain represent .989 x .587 or 58.1% of the electorate. 58.1% of 81% is 71.7%. So the maximum leave vote would have been 28.3%. I think.]

Commentators often look at the [changing] ratio of Catholics to Protestants and draw the conclusion that Catholics will eventually outnumber Protestants and that therefore they will vote Northern Ireland into a united Ireland. This ignores two essential points. Firstly, projecting the past into the future is a dangerous business. Secondly, an individual’s choice between being a unionist or a nationalist is not determined solely by his religion. The nationalist vote is soft. In 1964, for instance, after 40 years of peace, prosperity and progress, the Northern Ireland Labour Party, which supported the Union, succeeded in pushing nationalists into third place in the general election of that year.

[So the NILP got all its support from Nationalists, eh? Not true. By the way, that is the Northern Ireland Labour Party and not the Labour Party which refused and continues to refuse to organise in the province.]

Opinion polls also show little evidence of a desire for a united Ireland. In January 1996, in a survey carried out for the Belfast Telegraph only 17% of those interviewed chose a united Ireland as their preferred outcome.

[Very similar to recent polls I have seen although it does beg the question why nationalists get 40-45% of the vote in elections.]

A Unionist politician once had an illuminating discussion with a Catholic Unionist voter. The voter explained that most of his Catholic colleagues agreed that they did not want a united Ireland but that despite this they continued to vote for nationalist candidates. It seemed that they voted the way they did for reasons of communal solidarity.

[Question answered.]

→ Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part V

There is nothing new under the sun

“What has been will be again,” as it says in Ecclesiastes, “what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Yesterday – to my shame I did not spot it until today – the Times reprinted a letter to the editor that was a century old to the day. I wish I could say that it was merely of historical interest.

From The Times July 15, 1919

To the Editor of The Times

Sir, Will you permit an elderly man, who is not a politician nor a public character, but merely an individual among millions of honest, sober persons whose liberty is attacked by a moral tyranny, to state an opinion with regard to the crusade against moderate drinkers? It is not needed even in the cause of morality. When I was a child excess in drinking was patent in every class of society. Now, in my wide circle, I do not know of one man or woman who is ever seen “under the influence of liquor”. Why not leave the process of moderation, so marked within 60 years, to pursue its normal course? It is untrue to say that a reasonable use of alcohol is injurious to mind, body or morality. My father, whose life was one of intense intellectual application, and who died from an accident in his 79th year, was the most rigidly conscientious evangelical I have ever known. He would have been astonished to learn that his claret and water at his midday meal, and his glass of Constantia at bedtime, were either sinful in themselves or provocative to sin in others.

There is no blessing upon those who invent offences for the pleasure of giving pain and who lay burdens on the liberty of others. We have seen attempts by the fantastically righteous to condemn those who eat meat, who go to see plays, who take walks on Sundays. The campaign against the sober use of wine and beer is on a footing with these efforts, and should be treated as they have been. Already tobacco is being forbidden to the clergy! The fact that Americans are leading the campaign should be regarded with alarm. We do not express an opinion, much less organize propaganda, against “dryness” in the United States. It is not for us to interfere in their domestic business. If Englishmen went round America urging Americans to defy their own laws and revolt against their customs, we should be very properly indignant. Let crusading Americans be taught the same reticence.

The propagandist teetotaler is active and unscrupulous. He fights with all weapons, whether they are clean or no. We must resist, without fear of consequences, the cruel and ignorant fanaticism of these apostles.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

EDMUND GOSSE

Ulster for Beginners – Part IV

A Brief History of Ulster (continued)

In the search for a replacement for Stormont the government came to the conclusion that any scheme had to be acceptable to the constitutional nationalists of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) which had been formed in 1970. After negotiations held at Sunningdale in Berkshire, a power-sharing agreement was reached between the SDLP and the leadership of the Unionist Party which included a council of Ireland.

The Ulster Unionist Party split over the Council of Ireland. In the general election of February 1974 the agreement was decisively rejected at the polls. The government and the parties to the agreement ploughed on regardless. In May 1974, the Ulster Workers’ Council organised a general strike, aimed at bringing down the Council of Ireland. The strike was successful beyond its leaders’ wildest dreams, ending in the collapse of the power-sharing Executive.

[“wildest dreams”?]

In the absence of political stability the IRA campaign continued. Bombings and shootings became an every day event, added to by a new mainland bombing campaign. The government’s response was to pass the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

[Remember that? I don’t save that named persons could be banned from entering Great Britain but be perfectly free to walk around Ulster.

By the way, the timeline here is wrong. Shootings were an everyday event by 1971 and bombings by 1972. The mainland bombing campaign began in 1973.]

Between 1975-6 a constitutional convention was held which came close to agreement but failed. Internment was phased out and the government embarked upon a policy of treating terrorists as ordinary criminals. In 1975 the IRA murdered the British Ambassador to Ireland, Christopher Ewart-Biggs and in one day in 1979 murdered Lord Mountbatten while he was holidaying in the Republic of Ireland and 18 soldiers of the Parachute Regiment at Warrenpoint.

In 1981, Republican prisoners at the Maze jail demanded political status and began a dirty protest which grew into a hunger strike. Bobby Sands and 9 others died but the government stood firm.

[Hmm. IIRC that’s not quite true. They stood firm until the hunger strike was abandoned and then gave in.]

During the 1984 Conservative Conference, the IRA exploded a bomb in the main conference hotel where the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and members of the Cabinet were staying. In November 1985, the British and Irish government signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in which the Republic of Ireland was given a say in the affairs of Northern Ireland in return for promises of greater security co-operation. The agreement was condemned by Unionists who resigned their seats in protest.

The Anglo-Irish Agreement did little to suppress IRA terrorism. In 1987 they exploded a bomb at a Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen, killing 11. In 1990 they murdered Ian Gow MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Margaret Thatcher. In 1992 and 1993 the IRA exploded two huge bombs in the City of London. The damage ran into billions.

On 31st August 1994 the IRA declared a ceasefire. On 9th February 1996 they ended it, exploding another huge bomb, this time at South Quay in London’s Docklands. Two men died.

Since 1969 the world has become familiar with the bombings, shootings, beatings, boycotts and expulsions.

[Actually, the world probably wasn’t too familiar with the last three.]

Part III
Part V

Ulster for Beginners – Part III

A Brief History of Ulster (continued)

During the 1960s a number of complaints were made about Northern Ireland’s government which had been dominated by the Ulster Unionist Party since its inception. The thrust of the allegations was that Unionists had used their power in such a way as to make Catholics second-class citizens. There were a number of specific charges: that local government boundaries had been gerrymandered to the benefit of Unionists, that the local government franchise had not been reformed (again to the advantage of Unionists) and that Unionist local authorities discriminated against Catholics in housing and jobs. Complaints were also levelled at the B-Specials who, it was alleged, were exclusively Protestant. These allegations were denied by Unionists.

In 1967, an organisation calling itself the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was set up to campaign against the alleged abuses of power. It claimed to be a cross-community group: Unionists claimed that it was an IRA front. Whatever the case was the facts are clear enough. The NICRA organised marches which led to conflict with the police and Protestants. After a particularly violent encounter in Londonderry on 5 October 1968, riots became a regular event throughout the province. In August 1969, after the annual (Protestant and unionist) Apprentice Boys’s of Derry parade in Londonderry, there was a riot by Catholics in the Bogside area of the city. Shortly afterwards there was a similar riot in Belfast. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC – the police) lost control and the army was brought in to keep the peace. This was the beginning of the Troubles that continue to this day.

Shortly afterwards the B-Specials were stood down and the RUC were disarmed. The army prevented members of the RUC from patrolling in nationalist areas and allowed the creation of No-Go areas where the “Queen’s writ did not run”.

The IRA used the opportunity to organise. By June 1970 it was making attacks on the Army and in February 1971 it murdered its first soldier. Violence in all its forms appeared to be escalating out of control and, in August 1971, the Stormont government, under Prime Minister Bryan Faulkner, introduced internment or detention without trial. The backlash from the IRA was ferocious. In January 1972, at the end of an illegal march against internment in Londonderry, there was an exchange of gunfire between the army and others resulting in the deaths of 13 civilians.

[I grate at my use of the word “murder”. “Killed” would be better. And when I say “illegal”, “banned” would be better.

The army was absolutely sure it was being fired on. By this time, it was a standard IRA tactic to use rioters as human shields while firing on soldiers. Just as in the killing of Lyra McKee the other day.]

Whatever the facts of the matter, Her Majesty’s Government, moved to abolish Stormont (despite the fact that Stormont had nothing to do with the army action) and established Direct Rule with a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The abolition of Stormont, seen by many unionists as the only institution they could trust, provoked an immediate and bloody reaction. Recruitment to the UVF (no relation to the UVF of 1912) increased and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) was formed. These groups began a campaign of sectarian murder.

[Hmm there seems to be a bit missing here. I was told on good-ish authority that the formation of the UDA was in response to sectarian violence from republicans. Although after a while it is difficult to tell who is doing the titting and who the tatting.]

Part II
Part IV

Update 10/7/19

Actually there really was a bit missing there – there being differences between the published and electronic versions. The published version says, “Protestant paramilitary groups began a campaign of sectarian murder which in one form or another continued until 1994 when most of them declared a cease-fire following that announced by the IRA. (By the early 1990s Protestant paramilitaries were responsible for more killings than the IRA.)”

Ulster for Beginners – Part II

A Brief History of Ulster (continued)

In 1641, at a time of political instability in England and Scotland, there was a rebellion in Ireland against English rule. This led to the deaths of thousands of Protestants and only ended when Cromwell restored order in 1649.

[20 years ago I didn’t know this, but it seems that Protestants in Ulster put up a stout defence.]

In 1688, the Catholic king of Britain, James II, was deposed and came to Ireland to set about recapturing the throne from the new king, William III of Orange. Protestants remained loyal to William and in Londonderry held out for 114 days when they came under siege from James’s forces. The next year, on 1st July 1690, William inflicted a decisive defeat on James at the Battle of the Boyne. The Protestants were safe.

[King of Britain, eh? I think the correct title would have been King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Were Protestants in any great danger at this time? Well, they certainly thought so.]

While Protestants were safe they were far from equal. While members of the Church of Ireland dominated the Irish parliament, presbyterians were excluded. In 1798, this led to a revolt which nationalists have labelled the “United Irishmen” Rebellion. In reality it was two rebellions, one in Ulster and one in the South. Both were put down but not before southern rebels in Wexford had carried out a massacre of their Protestant neighbours. This tends to undermine the claim that Irishmen were in some way “united”.

[This became known as the Scullabogue Barn Massacre

For those who don’t know Church of Ireland = Anglican = wishy-washy but Protestant.]

During the 19th century there was a growing movement to give Ireland some autonomy in her government. This movement did not gain any significant support in Ulster where Protestants feared that they would end up separated from the empire in a state dominated by the Catholic Church. After two unsuccessful attempts to legislate for Home Rule, an act did pass through the House of Commons in 1913. Ulster Unionists regarded this as a betrayal and resolved to resist the imposition of Home Rule in Ulster with their own army, the Ulster Volunteer Force.

In 1914, just at the moment that a civil war in Ireland seemed inevitable, the First World War broke out and Home Rule was suspended until the end of the war. Impatient for all out independence a small band of Republican extremists led a rebellion in Dublin in Easter 1916. The rebellion was quickly put down but after that Sinn Fein/IRA grew in importance and influence, eclipsing the constitutionalist Home Rulers.

[It is difficult to overemphasise the way that the Home Rule issue dominated politics at the time. It was not unlike Brexit is now.]

In the general election of 1918, Sinn Fein, demanding an all-Ireland republic, all but swept the board in what is now the Republic of Ireland while the Ulster Unionist Party all but swept the board in what is now Northern Ireland. The IRA began a guerilla war against the British presence in Ireland. The UK parliament legislated for two separate parliaments in Ireland, one for the north and one for the south. This was the first time that His Majesty’s Government had accepted that Ulster was different. The IRA refused to accept this settlement continuing its campaign against British forces. After another year of war the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed which created the Irish Free State with dominion status but kept Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom albeit with its own parliament. For all their bombings and shootings, the IRA had achieved virtually nothing which had not already been offered to democratic politicians.

[Well, I suppose dominion is better than devolution. But then again, for how long would dominion have been denied? Of course, I say it’s better but better for whom?]

Unionists wanted to believe that the 1921 settlement had settled things for good; but Irish nationalists had other ideas. Irish nationalists and republicans, simply did not accept the will of the majority in Northern Ireland and demanded that it be incorporated into their state. At the time this was not an uncommon way of thinking, with similar aspirations being held by Hitler and Mussolini.

Although an attempt had been made to incorporate Ulster into the Irish Free State in 1921-22, the IRA being defeated by the Northern Ireland Government, it was not the end of the matter. In 1937, the Free State severed almost all of its links with the United Kingdom, announcing a constitution in which Articles 2 and 3 laid claim to the whole of the island of Ireland.

[You don’t “announce” a constitution do you? But what do you do? Publish? Too weak. Promulgate? Too pompous. Enact? Introduce?]

During the 1940s and the 1950s there were sporadic attempts by the IRA to bring down the Northern Ireland’s government, which by now had based itself at Stormont, on the outskirts of Belfast. Each time these attempts foundered on the twin rocks of internment and effective patrolling by Ulster’s B-Special constabulary.

Part I Part III

Ulster for Beginners – Part I

A few months ago Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, revealed that she knew precious little about the unusual conditions that exist in Ulster. With the recent killing of a journalist by some version of the IRA and with the 50th anniversary of the beginning of “The Troubles” coming up, it would be useful to be in possession of a concise explanation of why Ulster is the way it is and how it got that way.

Fortunately, just such an explanation exists. In 1998, the Friends of the Union published an excellent little pamphlet entitled Ulster for Beginners. I know all about its excellence largely because I was responsible for writing it.

Luckily – or unluckily? – I have kept a computerised draft all these years. It’s a bit too long for a blog posting so I have broken it up into chunks. What follows is the first chunk along with comments [in square brackets] by my older – and hopefully wiser – self. I will put up further installments assuming there are not too many objections.

→ Continue reading: Ulster for Beginners – Part I

Samizdata quote of the day

“Socialism always begins with a universal vision for the brotherhood of man and ends with people having to eat their own pets.”

– Toby Young, found via Guido Fawkes, who has video.

I seek a software or sporting metaphor to explain why a second referendum would be wrong

When discussing Brexit I am often asked, not always disingenuously, “What is so wrong with having another referendum? Is not another vote more democratic by definition? Now that we know more, isn’t a good idea to check if people really do want to leave the European Union?”

I have been trying to think of a metaphor to explain what my objection to a second referendum is. The non-metaphorical explanation is that the government solemnly promised in the pamphlet sent to every household that whatever people voted for in the referendum of 23rd June 2016, “the government will implement what you decide”. A so-called democracy that will not allow certain results is a sham democracy.

(“Buuut,” comes the cry, “we aren’t disallowing any results. We’re just checking.”)

It was the European Union’s habit of ignoring or repeating referendums that gave the “wrong answer” which more than anything else turned me against it. I can truly say that even when it was in its infancy I foresaw that the trick of making a few cosmetic changes then running the referendum again would work devilishly well because it is difficult to describe in one sentence what is wrong with it. One can point out that it only ever seems to work one way: results of which the EU approves never seem to need to be confirmed. But to do that requires that you recite a whole chunk of history about Denmark and Ireland and the difference (clue: there wasn’t one) between the European Constitution and the Lisbon Treaty. If your interlocutor is young, as a lot of Europhiles are, then this is a lot to take in and a lot to take on trust.

I wish there were a quick, engaging story I could tell to show what I mean. Two possible types of anecdote occur to me, one from the world of sport and one from the world of computers. Being ignorant of both fields, I would like to ask readers if they know of anecdotes or examples from sporting history or computery stuff which would fit the bill.

Computers first: it infuriates me when the efforts of Microsoft or Samsung to get me to adopt their proprietary software seem almost to amount to harassment. I have a Samsung phone. One day this crappy thing called “Samsung internet” appeared on the front screen or whatever it’s called. I don’t recall that I ever asked for it but I cannot make it go away. To be honest I probably did ask for it in the sense that I once, once, failed to reject it on some occasion when some damn prompt asking me to take it popped up and I had to get rid of the pop-up quickly in order to get on with whatever I wanted to do.

That anecdote is probably wrong in its terminology. I may have been overly harsh to Samsung or its internet. The point is that this type of situation, where the user has to keep rejecting something that the software company is pushing, and if they slip up just once they are deemed to have accepted it, is widely recognized to be a right pain. Can anyone give me the words to make this a metaphor for why “neverendums” are a bad thing?

Or what about an example from the history of sport? Little though I know about sports, even I can see that there can be few things more frustrating for an athlete than to run the race of your life – and then have it announced that, “Oh, sorry, old chap, that was a false start. We’ll have to run it again.” This would be even worse if it were suspected that the sporting authorities had applied the rules in a partial manner. For instance there may have been times when white athletics officials were more prone to declare that a re-run was necessary if a black athlete won than if a white athlete did.

I may have described a similar situation regarding football in an earlier post I cannot find now.

Has this scenario actually happened? Dates, names and places please!

And if you know as little as I do of those two fields, how do you make the argument against a second referendum?

Or, if you prefer, what stories, anecdotes or metaphors do you use to argue in favour of a second referendum?

John Lewis Gaddis on good versus evil in the Cold War

One of the particular pleasures of twenty-first century life is that it is now easy to purchase interesting books which have been around for quite a while, cheaply and easily rather than expensively and complicatedly. I recently bought, from Amazon, We Now Know, by John Lewis Gaddis, which is about the Cold War and was published in the 1990s. I’ve been meaning to acquaint myself with this book ever since I first heard about it, which must have been well over a decade ago.

I have so far only skimmed We Now Know, but I have already encountered a rather striking passage, towards the end. (Skimming usually involves looking at the end, doesn’t it?)

The Cold War, says Gaddis, was not decided in the Third World, but rather in such places as Europe and Japan. And why, asks Gaddis (pp.286-7 – his italics in bold), did “Washington’s empire in those pivotal regions”, generate so much less friction that Moscow’s:

One answer may be that many people then saw the Cold War as a contest of good versus evil, even if historians since have rarely done so.

Let me focus here on a single significant case: it has to do with what happened in Germany immediately after the war as its citizens confronted their respective occupiers. What Stalin sought there, it now seems clear, was a communist regime in the east that would attract Germans in the west without requiring the use of force, something the Russians could ill afford given their own exhaustion and the Americans’ monopoly over the atomic bomb.

Obviously, this is not what he got. Germans first voted with their feet – fleeing to the west in huge numbers to avoid the Red Army – and then at the ballot box in ways that frustrated all of Stalin’s hopes. But this outcome was not fore-ordained. There were large numbers of communist party members throughout Germany at the end of the war, and their prestige – because of their opposition to the Nazis – had never been higher. Why did the Germans so overwhelmingly welcome the Americans and their allies, and fear the Russians?

→ Continue reading: John Lewis Gaddis on good versus evil in the Cold War

This is not yesterday’s post about the NHS killing several hundred people

Today’s post about the NHS killing several hundred people is quite different from yesterday’s and should not be confused with it. They have nothing in common except both being about times when the NHS killed several hundred people.

The Guardian reports,

Fresh criminal inquiry launched over Gosport hospital deaths

Police have launched a fresh inquiry into how 450 patients died over 14 years after being given dangerously high doses of painkillers at an NHS hospital that showed “a disregard for human life”.

Relatives of the victims hope the investigation – the fourth into one of the biggest scandals in NHS history – will finally lead to criminal charges being brought against staff involved in administering the drugs unnecessarily.

An independent inquiry last year into events at Gosport War Memorial hospital in Hampshire found 456 patients had their lives shortened as a result of being given opioids without medical reason between 1987 and 2001. Their deaths are the focus of the new police investigation.

Another 200 people “probably” received excessive doses of painkillers at the hospital between 1989 and 2000, it added.

However the Guardian does not report a little detail that the Times does:

A hospital doctor faces a new police investigation into the deaths of 456 patients who were given “dangerous” levels of powerful painkillers.

Last year an official inquiry concluded that Jane Barton, who was known as Dr Opiate, headed an “institutionalised regime” of prescribing the drugs without medical justification at Gosport War Memorial Hospital.

Patients considered a “nuisance” were allegedly given drugs on syringe drivers filled with opiates which killed them within days of their arrival at the hospital in Hampshire.

(An earlier post on Gosport can be found here: “If a nurse didn’t like you, you were a goner”.)

The cruelty of those who think themselves virtuous by definition

The error was bad enough…

Hospital infected teenager with HIV then kept diagnosis secret

An NHS hospital kept a teenager’s HIV diagnosis secret from him after accidentally infecting him with the virus and testing for it without his knowledge.

Martin Beard, now 50, wants answers from the Infected Blood Inquiry, which begins examining what has been called the “worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS” tomorrow. More than 2,400 NHS patients were killed and as many as 25,000 were infected by blood products contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C in the 1970s and 80s.

Mr Beard was among thousands of haemophiliacs treated with Factor VIII, hailed as a “miracle drug” to aid clotting. It emerged years later that almost all those treated were infected with HIV, hepatitis C or both.

The drug was made by “pooling” plasma from thousands of blood donors, including prisoners and drug addicts in the US who were paid. If even one donor was infected, the whole batch was contaminated.

Mr Beard, from Burton-on-Trent, was treated from infancy at Birmingham Children’s Hospital (BCH), but transferred to North Staffordshire Hospital aged 17, where he first attended with his mother in September 1986. “We opened the doctor’s door,” Mr Beard said. “He didn’t even say ‘hello’ or ‘sit down’. His first words were, ‘I see you’re HIV positive.’ ”

…but in a way the attempt to conceal what they had done was more shocking.

The Times article by Kaya Burgess continues:

A year earlier Mr Beard had been treated at Leicester Royal Infirmary. The Times has seen a letter sent by a consultant in Leicester to a registrar at BCH [Birmingham Children’s Hospital]. Dated October 1985, 11 months before Mr Beard learnt of his illness, it states: “We note that he is HTLV 3 [HIV] antibody positive, but is not aware of this and that you do not wish this to be divulged to him. We shall make every effort to comply with your wishes.”

Medical errors will always happen. Some “cures” that seem wonderful at first will always turn out to have long term side effects, or, as in this case, to be worse than the disease. We can try to minimize such things but we can never eradicate them because they arise from the nature of discovery. If we knew in advance what worked and what did not we would not need research, we would just apply the wonder treatment the angels had told us about.

But for doctors to conceal from the victim of their own mistake the terrible harm they had done, and for no better reason other than to cover themselves… words fail me. Although Mr Beard was eventually made aware of his condition in the most brutal fashion, apparently more because someone did not get the memo to keep it secret rather than from any desire for honesty, other haemophiliacs who were not told of their diagnosis unknowingly infected their sexual partners who went on to die.

Consider those words in the consultant’s letter “We note that he is HTLV 3 [HIV] antibody positive, but is not aware of this and that you do not wish this to be divulged to him. We shall make every effort to comply with your wishes.” A senior doctor who had attained the exalted status of consultant could not possibly have been unaware of the potential dire consequences of hiding from this boy (as Mr Beard then was) the fact that he was HIV positive. Yet this consultant blithely promised to “make every effort” to comply with the wishes of his or her fellow doctors to perpetuate the conspiracy of silence, as if that were the honourable course of action.

Consider that the behaviour of that consultant was widely replicated throughout the NHS. It seemed normal. It was just what you did.