Family seeks fresh inquest to examine role played by DWP in death of Jodey Whiting

By agency reporter
January 8, 2020

The family of Jodey Whiting who died after her benefits were stopped have written to the Attorney General to request his consent to apply to the High Court for a fresh inquest into her death to examine role played by DWP.

Whiting's mother, Joy Dove, is asking for a new inquest on the basis that the original inquest was insufficient and that new evidence has since emerged hence the interests of justice require a fresh inquest to be held. The new evidence includes an investigation into the handling of Whiting’s benefits by the DWP and a report from an independent consultant psychiatrist.

The family hope that this application will lead to a new inquest in which the failings of the DWP identified by an independent investigation and the effects of these failings on Jodey’s mental state will be properly considered, including whether or not the failings more than minimally contributed to Jodey Whitng's death. The letter seeks authority from the Attorney General for an application to the High Court for a fresh inquest into Jodey’s death, pursuant to section 13 Coroners Act 1988.
 
Whiting from Stockton, died on 21 February 2017. She was a vulnerable woman with multiple physical and mental health illnesses which left her house-bound, requiring 23 tablets per day and meant she was entirely reliant on welfare benefits.
 
In late 2016, the DWP began to reassess Whiting’s entitlement to Employment Support Allowance (ESA). She requested a home visit as she rarely left the house due to her health and she made clear in her reply that she had “suicidal thoughts a lot of the time and could not cope with work or looking for work”.  Despite this, the DWP decided that she should attend a work capability assessment in January which she did not attend. On 6 February 2017 the DWP decide to stop the fortnightly ESA payments which Whiting relied on. She was immensely distressed to learn that her last payment would be made on 17 February. With the help of her family, she wrote to the DWP explaining the severity of her health conditions and asking them to reconsider their decision to terminate her ESA, but this did not happen until after her death. She then received letters informing her that her housing benefit and council tax benefit would be stopped because they were linked to her ESA. Just three days after her last ESA payment, on the 21 February, Jodey Whiting took her own life. 
 
On 24 May 2017, an inquest was held into her death at Teesside Coroner’s Court. The inquest lasted for less than one hour and the coroner declined to consider the potential role of the DWP in her death. Whiting’s family were unrepresented and were unaware that they may have been entitled to publicly funded legal representation.
 
After the inquest, a report by an Independent Case Examiner concluded that the DWP had made multiple significant errors in how it treated Whitng. Some of the failings had not been known to her family, who were horrified to learn how many failings had occurred in the handling of her benefits.
 
Jodey’s Whiting's family have now obtained an opinion from an independent Consultant psychiatrist who concluded that the DWP’s failings would probably have had a substantial effect on her mental state at the time she took her own life.
 
In her letter to the Attorney General, Joy Dove argues that the manner in which her daughter was treated by the DWP, and in particular the withdrawal of her ESA, caused or materially contributed to her death and that had this not been the case, her death would not have occurred when it did.
 
Dove of Norton, Stockton-on-Tees, said: “It has been almost three years since Jodey’s death and I am determined to continue to fight for justice. The link between the failings by the DWP and my daughter’s death have never been investigated despite years of trying. I believe that seeking a new inquest is our only avenue to ensure that a thorough investigation is conducted, in which my family and I can participate, into the circumstances of Jodey’s death and the role played by the DWP failings. This has the potential to help not just my family, but also all the others badly affected by poor decision making by the DWP. ”
 
Merry Varney, solicitor from Leigh Day representing Whiting's family, added: “Jodey took her own life just days after being told her ESA was being stopped and there is now clear evidence that the decision making by the DWP which lead to her benefits being terminated was completely flawed. Jodey’s family have never had any doubt the DWP decisions contributed to Jodey’s death and now that view is supported by the opinion of an independent consultant psychiatrist. Neither the expert report nor the independent report into the DWP decision making was available at the first inquest.
 
“The consent being sought by my client from the Attorney General is the first step to achieving a fresh inquest and ensuring there is a full public investigation into the role played by the DWP in Jodey’s death. Against a backdrop of other families suffering due to flawed DWP decisions, achieving this fresh inquest is also of wider public importance given the role of coroners to consider risks to future lives and Joy’s longstanding objective not just to get justice for her daughter, but also to better protect others from similar harm.”

* Leigh Day https://www.leighday.co.uk/

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