Contaminated Blood: Letter from the sister of hepatitis C infected US prison plasma donor that Tony Blair ignored

Linda Miller saying goodbye to her brother Bud Tant, a US prison plasma donor, as he lay dying from liver failure as a result of his infection with hepatitis C
(Image shared by Miller)

Haemophiliacs were infected with HIV and hepatitis viruses during the 1970s and 80s through their factor concentrate treatment for an inherited bleeding disorder. They discovered years later that much of this treatment was imported from the US and made from the plasma of “high-risk” donors such as prisoners, sex workers and men who had sex (often unprotected) with men. Two of the biggest myths regarding what is now known as the Contaminated Blood scandal are 1) That haemophilia campaigners presented no evidence of safety violations and human rights abuses and 2) That most of the key evidence was only just “discovered” in 2017 by new campaigners… both being false statements.

Regarding the first point, damning documents were repeatedly sent by infected haemophiliacs and affected partners to government and indeed presented in face to face meetings with ministers. Government had a tendency not to minute these meetings so campaigners quickly learnt to write their own minutes sending copies to those they met recording their interactions. On the second point, information regarding who knew what and when is frequently misrepresented in the media today by unscrupulous journalists that either don’t do their checks properly when interviewing subjects and believe all that they say unchecked or are working to their own personal agenda and bias.

In the 1990s/early 2000s this author Carol Grayson and her late husband Peter Longstaff were in regular contact with American activist, Linda Tant Miller, the sister of an Arkansas State Penitentiary plasma donor, Bud Tant, who died from hepatitis C. Miller ran a damning website detailing prison “blood cows” looking at the alleged safety violations in collecting plasma and abuse of incarcerated donors. The couple were also the first UK campaigners to have contact with documentary maker Kelly Duda who was making a film on the plasma programme which came to be known as Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal.

The following piece on Bud Tant and Arkansas prison was published as part of a wider story by the awarded Newcastle Journal “Bad Blood” campaign set up in 2000 jointly by journalist Louella Houldcroft and Grayson and Longstaff, their goal being to achieve a public inquiry and proper compensation for those infected and affected. They set about introducing Houldcroft to Miller by phone and email and a story went out on August 7th, 2000, having first been checked over by the paper’s lawyers as it was a controversial topic and accuracy was important. This is the scanned article as the old Journal website was changed and the online links disappeared. Grayson maintained hard copies and due to interest generated as a result of the Infected Blood Inquiry, the articles may soon be resurrected and once again made easy to view. The Chronicle, a sister paper in Newcastle also ran numerous article with the couple.

Newcastle Journal “Bad Blood” campaign article (August 7th, 2000) written by Louella Houldcroft in collaboration with Grayson, Longstaff and Miller
Part of the same article on Bud Tant and Arkansas Prison

On 24th November 2000, Grayson received an email from Miller prompted by a newspaper article which reported that Irish contaminated blood victims might “sue” for their infections and go to court. She wrote,

This article made me think of something — didn’t you say that you have evidence, (a package or something like that) which confirms that Pete received Cummins Unit plasma product?  Well, I PROMISE YOU I can get together enough testimony that you would be successful in suing those INDIVIDUALS of the Arkansas Department of Correction who were responsible for the way the plasma program was run.  I can even provide you a former Compliance Officer of the ADC who told me and a friend of mine who’s making a documentary about the atrocity that a civilian employee of the plasma center came to her office and told them about the re-use of needles and tubing and the falsification of test results.  I can also put an attorney in contact with a respiratory therapist who works at the biggest hospital in Pine Bluff who worked at the plasma center as a college student – you would have to subpoenea him because he’s really scared due to the fact that he’s had death threats if he talks – but he knows a lot about it.  That’s in addition to all the former donors and plasma center workers who are still in the prison who are willing and even anxious to testify about what went on there.  One of those inmates’ job was to re-sharpen used needles with sandpaper and the other was the one who would fix the plasma center freezers after they had been broken for days at a time.  Someone else I know has  a document signed by one of them which PROVES CRIMINAL ACTS I can’t tell you about right now, but this document alone would enable you to prevail.

At that time, Grayson and her campaign colleague, Colette Wintle were in regular contact with Lord Alf Morris, then President of the UK Haemophilia Society who would ring them for briefings on the latest campaign and news updates so that he could discuss and refer to them during parliamentary debates. Morris was deeply disturbed by what he was learning about US prison plasma and was doing all he could to secure both a public inquiry and proper compensation for those infected and affected that had received these products.

On the 22nd March 2001 she again emailed writing,

My very dear friends:

I am so excited about what you are accomplishing!  YES, I will write a letter to Mr. Blair and tell him exactly how they harvested that blood and how it was handled.  I will start working on it tonight and get it to you as soon as I can.  I don’t see HOW they can fail to be shocked and appalled at INTENTIONAL MURDER committed by a US state agency!  I mean, it’s not like there was even a CHANCE the plasma wouldn’t sicken and kill people, and the people who harvested it were medical people.  They knew exactly what they were doing.

We in America have faced an added blockade of the atrocity due to the fact of Clinton being President, but now that he’s out of office we are barrelling full speed ahead.  Kelly Duda’s film is almost complete.  He thought he had it done, but then decided it was a little too long, so he’s doing some last minute editing to shorten it for most markets.  He has requests for it from HBO and several networks.  48 Hours, which is a popular  American news program has also expressed an interest in doing the story and Kelly is working with them, too.  As soon as the program airs I plan to begin a push to get folks to contact the FBI and Justice Department and demand investigation into this atrocity and prosecution of the guilty parties.  I sure wish some group from another country could come here and sue the Arkansas, Texas and Federal governments for this, but the problem is finding a law firm with “deep enough pockets” to carry the suit.  The Canadians are still seeking a US firm which is willing to take on this case.  I believe that when the public pressure grows intense enough law firms will be vying with one another to prosecute this case, but until we can get the message out to the public we’re not getting any action.

The thing is that the US press has a blackout on this story.  We think that the fact that virtually the entire world will be able to sue the US is the major factor in this.  So we’re fighting an uphill battle.  Most of what we are able to inform folks about takes place online.  We’re not going to give up, though.  We’ll NEVER give up!!  We know we WILL prevail  because we KNOW God is on the side of righteousness!!

I pray you’re successful in getting them to provide recombinant treatment to all hemophiliacs!  It’s absolutely INSANE that they haven’t made the switch as soon as it became available.  Based on what I’ve seen through this work, I would BET that the whole reason they haven’t is based on protecting the blood brokers from financial loss!  It’s a tragedy of monumental proportions that people are more concerned with financial gain than with the lives of others.

Well, let me get off here and go get some things done and then start the letter to Mr. Blair.  Thanks so much for letting me know about this.  I’ll get the letter to you asap.

God bless and keep you both!

Hugs.

Linda


“To be silent in the face of injustice is to be an accomplice to evil.
I will not be silent.”
 Lori Berenson – January, 2000

Miller then took a break from campaigning due to health issues and a stay in hospital. A flow of further emails followed and then the promised letter to Tony Blair arrived on 25th March 2001. Miller stated,

Hello, dear people I am attaching a scanned, signed copy of the letter to Mr. Blair in which I made the type face larger and added a line requesting a reply, in case you want to print it and use it for distribution and delivery to Mr. Blair. 

After giving an update on her health, she wrote,

I believe that once the story gets told to Americans they will be as outraged as we are.  It’s just a matter of REACHING THEM and thus far we have been unable to get any  mainstream news source to mention it at all.  My father and I began trying back in 1997.  We wrote to EVERY major news source and investigative reporter we could find and never even received the courtesy of a reply to our letters from anyone.  We were just astounded.  Things got a little better after I built the web site – Kelly, the documentary film maker and the producer from 48 Hours found me via the site, but even after all this time we’re still at the point of getting ready to get the story out.  I find it so hard to believe.  I really believed what they taught me in school – that we have a free and autonomous press that tells the American people the truth, no matter how grim.  What a sad truth I’ve had to face in that it’s not true. 

Kelly tells me that the reason the US media don’t want to report it is because when it’s globally known – when just ONE country wins a civil lawsuit against us or the perpetrators are brought to justice – virtually the entire world will be able to sue Arkansas and also the United States due to the culpability of the Food and Drug Administration which kept re-certifying the Cummins Plasma Center despite the horrendous conditions.  This would DEFINITELY bankrupt Arkansas (one of the poorest of the states), and would do grave financial damage to the US economy.  Well, I don’t care.  I’m so outraged that even though the financial devastation of the federal government would adversely impact my own life I really don’t care.  This is THE worst atrocity in the history of humanity, and  because I know about it I am compelled to do all I can to set it right.  I believe that had I lived in Europe during the days of WWII I would have hidden and assisted people destined for the extermination camps, and I see this as being on the same moral level.  I’m willing to do and suffer whatever it takes to see to it that the monsters who have unleashed suffering and death on innocent people don’t get away with it! 

The problem my country has with me right now is that I BELIEVED all the propaganda I was fed about how moral, upright, just and trustworthy my country was and how we as individual Americans should embody the high principles of America.  So I always did my best to live up to the standards I believed were expected of Americans.  Having had the heartbreaking experience of learning that my country is not what I thought it was hasn’t changed who I AM, and the American I am and thought most of us were just never sits idly by and witnesses injustice without doing my best to right it.

After some general comments on her family, she continued,

I am SO IMPRESSED with what you two have managed to accomplish!  Having struggled so long and fruitlessly to get my own country’s media to report this atrocity I am so thrilled that you are having such success in making it known in England.  You are awesome!  I have no doubt at all that you will achieve ALL your goals in record time and that in the process your country and Canada will force America to address the crimes which were committed and do the right thing.  Sadly, I believe that international pressure is what it’s going to take.

Well, I have more work to do so I had best get to it.  God bless and keep you both

Linda

The following letter from Miller was handed in to no 10 by Lord Alf Morris, Grayson and Wintle on one of their demonstration days at Westminster. It is the unsigned version as the signed one was in an old format not compatible with this site.

March 22, 2001

Mr. Tony Blair, British Prime Minister

10 Downing Street

London, England

Dear Mr. Blair:

My name is Linda Tant Miller and I live in the state of Washington in the United States.  The purpose of this letter is to provide you some of the information to which I am privy regarding the collection of HIV and hepatitis-tainted human blood plasma from the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction, (ADC) and its distribution throughout the world. 

My brother, Bud Tant was a prisoner in the Cummins Unit from 1984 until his death from hepatitis C on March 14, 1999.  Neither my brother nor his family was aware of the fact that he had this virus until approximately 1996, but according to John Byus, the current Medical Administrator of the ADC, Bud had the virus at the time he was first incarcerated there.  During part of the time that my brother was donating plasma, Mr. Byus, a Registered Nurse worked in the Cummins Unit Infirmary, so he is in a position to know this fact.  Bud was, nonetheless permitted to donate plasma at every collection session from 1984 until the program was terminated in 1992.

I first learned of the sickness in Canada as a result of the Cummins Unit plasma just prior to my brother’s death, but I didn’t have time to address the subject in depth until after he died.  As I watched my brother die a death more gruesome and agonizing than I’d ever dreamed in my worst nightmares, I realized that millions of people all over the world would suffer his same horrendous fate and their families would stand helplessly by, suffering the same grief and agony we were enduring.  I realized that most of them would never know the source of their infection, but I knew, and I vowed to my brother that I would see the atrocity exposed and those responsible for it brought to justice.  I have devoted my life to this cause since that date.

Several years ago Sgt. McAlpine of the RCMP, indicated to me that they had little hope of bringing to justice the ADC administrators responsible for the knowing and deliberate harvesting and sale of tainted plasma, because by the time they got to Arkansas the paper trail was gone, so I promised him that I would find eye-witnesses and participants who would be willing to testify to what happened.  I have since that time located many current and former inmates, former Cummins Unit Plasma Program staff members and a former ADC Compliance Officer who are anxious to testify to the facts of this crime.

Here are just a few of the facts I have uncovered:

  • Known homosexual prison prostitutes, even those in the final stages of AIDS were routinely permitted to donate plasma.
  • Men who were bloated and jaundiced from the final stage of hepatitis were routinely permitted to donate plasma.
  • Even when available, tests for HIV and hepatitis were seldom utilized, and when they were, results were often falsified.
  • Needles re-sharpened with sand paper and collection tubing were re-used from inmate to inmate, thereby cross-infecting virtually the entire donor base.
  • The collected plasma was stored in a freezer that was often out of order.  Plasma rendered unfit by thawing was re-frozen and shipped out in regular shipments.
  • Plasma that was rejected by the plasma brokers as unfit was returned to the Cummins Unit for destruction.  Out of each returned case of plasma, one or two units were destroyed and the rest was re-frozen and re-shipped.
  • During periods of time when the US Food and Drug Administration had shut down the Cummins Unit program due to their unsafe practices, the ADC administrators continued to collect and sell plasma, using names collected from the local telephone book and selling it through a community plasma center.

All of these charges and more can and will someday be proven in a court of law. 

As I’m sure you are aware, many thousands of innocent British citizens have been sickened and killed due to the deliberate crimes committed by the MEDICAL PERSONNEL who administered the Cummins Unit Plasma Center.  I hope therefore that you will join your voice to those of us who are working to see justice served in this matter.  I urgently implore you to use the power of your office to spur the FBI and the US Department of Justice to implement a full-scale investigation of the people and institution that made the tainted plasma available to the pharmaceutical companies.  Had it not been for the greed and corruption of the plasma collectors the people and governments of the world would not now be facing the tragedies and financial burdens with which we’re now forced to struggle

I know all too well the effect my brother’s suffering and death has had on my family.  We will never be the same.  I no longer work at a paying job because seeing justice done in this matter is far more important to me than my own personal comfort and finances.  My parents have developed health problems due to the stress and grief of our tragedy that will soon see both of them in their graves.  My sister and I have debilitating flashbacks to the time of our brother’s dying which haunt us day and night, turning our lives into nonstop nightmares of pain and grief.  Multiply our suffering by BILLIONS, since the secondary infections from the Cummins Plasma Program will continue to the end of time unless science discovers cures or vaccines against the plague the Arkansas Department of Corrections and its employees have unleashed upon the world.  Sir, the people who are guilty of this atrocity are the worse criminals in history and I hope you will be as incensed and determined to see justice done as I am.

I also pray you will heed the pleas of my good and wise friend Carol Grayson and take the steps necessary to see to it that no other British subjects will be infected with deadly diseases during medical treatment and to assure that fair and equitable compensation is made to ALL the victims of this atrocity.

For more information on the Cummins Unit Plasma Program please visit my web site at http://www.geocities.com/bloodcows.  In addition, a friend of mine is producing a documentary film about the Cummins Unit Plasma Program that contains yet more testimony and information.  It will air in a few months and I will notify you of the date and time as soon as they are known.

I will appreciate a response to this letter, apprising me of your thoughts and intentions regarding this atrocity and the plight of the victims.

Thank you for your time and attention to this urgent matter of justice.

                                                                                    Sincerely,

                                                                                    LINDA TANT MILLER

                                                                                    (Address supplied)

The only reply ever received from Blair’s office was an acknowledgement of receipt but no comment on the content of the letter and although Arkansas State Penitentiary has a prison history section on their website, information on the history of what was a long standing plasma programme can no longer be found.

Not long after, Grayson and Longstaff went on to initiate contact with a US law firm recommended by American and Canadian campaigners. Longstaff was then confirmed to have received factor concentrate batches which included infected prison donors from Arkansas by his San Francisco lawyers. Both Longstaff and Wintle were accepted as legitimate cases by four US plasma companies where an agreement was eventually reached though protected largely by a silence clause with regard to the details. Kelly Duda completed his well received documentary and later testified at the Archer Public Inquiry (A privately funded Inquiry set up by Lord Archer of Sandwell in 2007) at the request of Grayson and Archer, funded by the Haemophilia Society after much persuasion by Grayson and due to insufficient funding, stayed with Wintle at her then home in Tunbridge Wells.

LINKS

Law suit for infected blood (Guardian, June 4th, 2003)

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/jun/04/aids

Arkansas Times, “Bloody Awful” How money and politics contaminated Arkansas’s prison plasma.”

https://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/bloody-awful/Content?oid=863387

Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She was a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.

About Carol Anne Grayson

Blogging for Humanity.... Campaigner/researcher global health/human rights/drones/WOT/insurgency http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/PO/experts/Health_and_Wellbeing.aspx Exec Producer of Oscar nominated documentary Incident in New Baghdad, currently filming on drones.
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