FOR decades it has been accepted that Scotland’s blood contamination scandal originated in America, with transfusions taken from prisoners before being given to patients on the NHS and resulting in hundreds of deaths.

But now The Herald can reveal that almost all of those who were infected with HIV or Hepatitis C in the 1980s were exposed to contaminated blood which was actually taken from high-risk donors in Scottish prisons and serving US personnel without proper scrutiny.

For more than 25 years, blood was drawn from Scots prisoners with the HIV and hepatitis viruses, with no proper records kept about who received it.

This was long after warnings about the dangers were known. And other donors at the time, who could have been carrying both infections, were not quizzed about their drug or sexual history.

Although it can’t be said for certain that these are the sources of the scandal, they are the most probable cause.

Now, ahead of the Infected Blood Inquiry under Sir Brian Langstaff which opens in Edinburgh next month, The Herald can reveal that a test which could have saved lives was not implemented. And crucial medical records, which might have identified infected product, were mysteriously lost, redacted or destroyed.

Today, victims of the scandal are stepping up their campaign to receive compensation from the UK and Scottish Governments.

Sam Stein QC, who is representing four core participants in the Langstaff inquiry, said: “We say there was a systematic attempt to destroy documents. Documents that should have been passed to the National Archives disappeared… We say that there was a systematic attempt to destroy evidence, avoid the truth and thereby abdicate responsibility for the actions of the state and its representatives.”

More than 3,000 people in Scotland are known to have been directly infected in the tainted blood scandal. The majority of the 1,200 victims who developed Aids are now dead.

Both HIV and Hepatitis C, which causes liver damage and cancer, can be passed on through sexual intercourse and in blood, including in the womb and breastfeeding.

Because of the lack of monitoring, it cannot be said how far the original blood infection from the 1970s and early-1980s spread. Hep C can lie dormant for years or even decades. Health Protection Scotland estimates that around 50,000 Scots have been infected and that a substantial portion of those may still not know they are carrying it.

There is no suggestion that all of these were infected by the bad blood. The infection rate is now falling. In 2017 just 1,511 new cases were reported. New treatments, which were not available for those originally infected, can now cure almost 95% of cases.

The extent of the scandal also spreads to patients’ medical records, many of which have been destroyed in what Labour MP Andy Burnham called “a criminal cover-up on an industrial scale”.

A subsequent internal government audit found that around 1,000 crucial files – containing tens of thousands of documents – had gone missing. It is believed that more than 500 of them have still not been recovered.

Mr Burnham threatened to go to the police with his evidence of alleged criminality and cover-up. Since Theresa May agreed to set the inquiry up in 2017, a further 160 victims have died, 25 of them in Scotland. Last month, Mrs May said that she would wait until the Langstaff inquiry reports before re-assessing victim payouts.

Conservatively, more than 25,000 people throughout Britain – more than 2,000 of whom have died and are still dying at the rate of around three a week – were infected in the 1970s and 1980s.

For many of those who contracted Hepatitis C, the symptoms did not present until years or decades later. Payment schemes for those infected by HIV or Hepatitis C, which can cause liver disease and death, have not been admitted as compensation for the diseases.

The “support” payouts have also been meagre compared to those in other affected countries like Ireland.

Bruce Norval is a haemophiliac and was treated at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh in the 1970s and early 80s. He discovered he had Hepatitis C in 1990.

He said: “The people who were in charge should not have been allowed to stay in post after the scandal emerged. My whole life has passed by. All I want is a house I can be at peace and die in.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “In Scotland we’re committed to providing funds to support infected people and their families, with over £30 million being provided since 2016 alone. Lump sum payments were given to many Scottish Infected Blood Support Scheme beneficiaries, with everyone with chronic Hepatitis C receiving £50,000 and those with both chronic Hepatitis C and HIV all receiving £70,000 in addition to the lump sum payment they received in the early 1990s in relation to their HIV.”