Jason Evans is the director and founder of Factor 8. At four years old, he lost his father to the infected blood scandal. Since 2015, Jason has played a leading role in the campaign for recognition, justice, and compensation for those affected by it.

You’ve spoken about the void that your father’s death created in your life. How early did you become aware of the circumstances around his death?

I wasn’t aware of the detailed circumstances until I was a teenager and even then it was pretty vague. If I’m honest, when my mum first said that my dad had been infected with HIV through a pharmaceutical product, I probably thought she was a bit mad. When you’re that age you have so much going on, so it wasn’t really until my early twenties that I started to really understand the ins and outs of it. It was quite traumatic. Most people understand how their loved ones died immediately but I only found out many, many years later.

Can you tell us about the moment you decided to form Factor 8?

The day the Scottish Penrose Inquiry was published – 25th March 2015. That inquiry was limited to Scotland, couldn’t compel witnesses outside of it, and didn’t look at pharmaceutical companies. It made one recommendation: that people who had blood or blood products before 1991 should be tested for Hepatitis-C. It apportioned no blame. It was the polar opposite of what we got last month from the Infected Blood Inquiry. At the time though, as far as many people were concerned that was going to be it – but it was nothing, a whitewash, and feeling let down by it and not getting answers spurred me to do something.

Factor 8 wasn’t set up the next day. It was a gradual process that began by me examining the evidence in a very detailed way, document by document, rather than reading someone else’s version of events. From there I made Freedom of Information requests. Around 2016, the idea of Factor 8 as an organisation came about out of a meeting in a pub I had with two people who’d themselves been infected with HIV and Hepatitis-C. They’d been campaigning a long time themselves and we felt like we needed to do one last push for a full UK-wide inquiry to get the truth.

There were people that were against it. There’d been decades of fighting and the latest failed attempt with the Scottish inquiry meant there wasn’t much appetite for it. I had phone calls from people that had been infected that warned us we were giving people false hope. It was a very difficult time but that era was what spawned Factor 8 as an organisation.

What was most challenging about making the transition from “ordinary person” to campaigner?

Time, definitely the time commitment. 

My background was in marketing and PR in the automotive industry so I was very business-minded. I was very passionate about the work that I was doing at the time and wanted to do the campaign with the same kind of passion – but one of the first things I realised was that this wasn’t something I could do on evenings and weekends. As a grassroots campaigner, you had to be the investigator, the PR person, the website designer, the social media content creator – all of those things in one person is a huge time commitment. I spoke to my boss at the time about what I wanted to do and she was very understanding and allowed me to go freelance which enabled me to dedicate significant amounts of time to the campaign. 

Time is really important: being able to focus on the important things and ignore the things that aren’t – I developed a rule early on not to be drawn into engaging with internal arguments or arguing with random people on the internet, which I’ve seen other campaigners get drawn into. I focused on the work. If it’s not constructive to the work, I’m not getting involved.

Also, being willing to be bold and do things on your own: there have been times when I’ve been frustrated or like the campaign was stuck, when I’d leave my home in the Midlands and hop on a train to London with no plan. One of the most recent times I did that, within 15 minutes of standing outside of the Cabinet Office I saw the Permanent Secretary and was able to ask her what was happening with compensation in the middle of the street. Pure chance. The number of times I’ve done something similar to that, turned up to parliament, stood in central lobby, and recognised an MP and spoken to them. Most people either don’t realise they can do that or aren’t willing to because it involves leaving the house and getting off the computer but sometimes you need to be bold. 

(Photo credit: Big T Images)

Throughout your campaign, you’ve faced bureaucratic hurdles, indifference, and hostility. What do you think motivated that opposition and how did you overcome it? 

Andy Burnham gave a very good answer to this question. He’s said on a number of occasions that he believes, as a former health minister, that resistance to getting to the truth was fear of financial exposure within the civil service. The cost of compensation if the truth came out – which we know, as the scheme is being set up as we speak, will likely cost billions of pounds and for any government that’s a significant chunk of money. No matter which party was in power, we saw resistance to an inquiry and the thread was the civil service as they remained in power through Labour and Conservative governments. That’s why our campaign focus was often on dialogue with senior government officials as opposed to MPs and ministers as they’re often the ones that, basically, tell ministers what to do. 

There was a time, probably in the late 80s and early 90s, that officials in the Department of Health probably saw what was happening in France and felt worried that people were going to jail for the blood scandal. Not so much now because a lot of people have died and moved on with the passage of time but you can imagine, looking over the water to see people going to prison for something that happened here, it would make anyone nervous. I would be a bit nervous in that scenario too. It might explain why a lot of the document destruction mentioned in the inquiry’s report took place.

What do you think the prevalence of scandals and miscarriages of justice says about the state of British public life?

Recently, I went to the Grenfell silent walk for the first time. I’d never been before but doing it I got to meet a lot of the people impacted by Grenfell. I’d met a few of them before when they visited our inquiry, as well as some people from the COVID inquiry, and there’s a common thread that runs through all of them: this kind of reluctance to even have an investigation. Even when an investigation is called, you have to worry about its independence, how long it will take, how involved the families will be, and perhaps worst of all, often the recommendations made by these inquiries are not implemented or responded to. With Hillsborough for example, they’re still waiting on a proper response to the recommendations, which is mad after all those years.

When you’re using public money to do something in the public interest, you’d hope that ultimately that interest is served by acting on the lessons you’ve spent all of that money to find out. Yet there’s this common thread through a lot of campaigns, you can identify what stage of the process they’re at: we just had our report last month so we have our recommendations and are trying to get them implemented, Grenfell and the Post Office are coming up to that point so are still in the throes of the inquiry process, and Covid is a little way off. There are other campaigns like nuclear test veterans and Zane Gbangbola who are fighting for an official investigation. There’s a cycle that these campaigns go through.

What advice would you give to the next government about the action that needs to be taken to stop scandals from happening again?

One of the reasons I met with Grenfell and COVID campaigners was to call for a national oversight mechanism which would be a formal way to track action on inquiry recommendations. Basically, to keep tabs on what’s happening, whether the recommendations are being implemented and to figure out why not if they aren’t being. Another good thing which I believe is in the Labour manifesto is a Hillsborough law which would do a number of things: 1) introduce a duty of candour on all public authorities that compels them to tell the truth at the first time of asking and 2) create fair, levelled access to legal representation at inquests and inquiries so that families have a fair shot at finding out the truth.

In the Victims and Prisoners Bill that was passed recently was the creation of an independent public advocate which would act on behalf of victims and bereaved families of large-scale disasters. It’s almost amazing that it didn’t exist already but between the public advocate and the Hillsborough law, it feels like change is coming to how we address and respond to injustices.

You’ve said campaigning for justice for your father was an attempt to form a connection with him. Do you feel as if you’ve achieved that?

Yeah, I do. Back in late 2016, I sought out therapy and during one of the sessions, my therapist told me she thought part of the reason I was so obsessed with campaigning was because it helped to draw out the time I didn’t have with my dad. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that it was the case. Around that time, it wasn’t uncommon for me to fall asleep in bed with my laptop looking at documents, waking up, and immediately starting to read again. It was very strange waking up the day after the final report knowing the truth was finally on the record and that I didn’t need to fight for the truth anymore. 

For the best part of a decade, I’d spend my time packaging up parts of the infected blood scandal to pitch to the media, exposing the evidence drip by drip, so not having to do that anymore is very strange. It feels as if that process of drawing out is coming to an end – I can feel the difference in terms of before and after the inquiry report. I want to get the compensation scheme as good as it can be but once that’s done, I think Factor 8 will become a kind of community support group.

Are there any other campaigns out there that have really inspired you?

The Primodos campaign led by Marie Lyon. Marie is so dedicated and they’ve managed to build a community that’s very strong. Grenfell also, I’ve seen first-hand how strong the community aspect is within their campaign. That’s not always been the case for us, the campaign for justice has fragmented into different interest groups, there have been divisions, but we’ve worked to bridge those and to get us to a point where we could speak with one voice. 

What’s next for you, Jason?

In terms of campaigning, I want to see the compensation scheme through and get the memorial done. I think those will be my last acts as a full-on campaigner for Factor 8 but I would love to find a way to help other campaigns. Not every campaign has resources and money so I’d love to be able to give advice to help people change things.

The ultimate answer though is I’m not quite sure yet. I’d like to be involved in something that helps to address injustice – in whatever form that may be.

Factor 8 campaigners outside of 10 Downing Street

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