Parents of ‘fit for work’ suicide man back call for Iain Duncan Smith prosecution


The parents of a disabled man who took his own life after being wrongly found “fit for work” have backed attempts to persuade Scottish police to investigate the actions of former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

David and Maureen Barr have both told Disability News Service (DNS) that Duncan Smith and former employment minister Chris Grayling should be prosecuted over their failure to address serious safety concerns about the work capability assessment (WCA).

Their son, also called David (pictured), and also from Fife, was just 28 when he took his own life on 23 August 2013.

Despite his history of significant mental distress, David’s parents believe the healthcare professional who assessed him – employed by the government contractor Atos – failed to contact their son’s GP or his psychiatrist for further information about his mental health.

When questioned afterwards by the Procurator Fiscal’s office – which investigates sudden deaths in Scotland – the assessor claimed he couldn’t remember if he had made any phone calls, according to David’s father.

The Atos assessor completed David’s assessment by concluding, in June 2013: “He reports self harm in the past. He reports he attempted an overdose six weeks ago but he would not say what he took.

“He reports he has had no thoughts of suicide since. The evidence overall suggests that he is not at substantial risk.”

Despite David appealing against the decision that he was fit for work, and telling the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in a letter that he had “serious mental health problems that prevent me from doing everyday tasks which means I cannot work at this moment in time”, the Atos advice was rubber-stamped by DWP decision-makers.

The decision that he was not eligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) was confirmed in a letter to David on 17 July 2013. A month later, he took his own life.

His death is one of three cases contained in a dossier submitted to Police Scotland by disabled activist John McArdle, from the user-led campaign network Black Triangle, in an attempt to persuade the force to open an investigation into Duncan Smith and Grayling.

McArdle wants Police Scotland to investigate the two former ministers for the Scottish criminal offence of wilful neglect of duty by a public official, because they failed to take steps to improve the WCA in 2010 after being warned by a coroner that its flaws risked causing future deaths of people with mental health conditions.

Police Scotland has been handed details of three people – including David Barr – who died in the years after the coroner sent his letter to DWP, and whose deaths campaigners believe could have been prevented if the two ministers had acted on that warning.

The force is currently awaiting further information about the three cases before deciding what action to take.

This week, David Barr’s parents spoke of their hope for justice for their much-loved son, whose death they believe could have been avoided if Duncan Smith and Grayling had taken action.

David Barr senior said his son’s mental health had deteriorated in the last couple of years of his life, but he had previously been able to work intermittently in agriculture and labouring, while his final job, which ended in 2011, was cleaning buses.

By the time he died he was no longer capable of working, his dad said, and he was taking strong medication including anti-psychotics and anti-depressants, and was experiencing paranoid delusions.

David’s father, a bus driver, said: “His mind was gone, and anybody who assessed him should have seen that.”

He told DNS this week that he was fully behind attempts to secure a prosecution.

He said: “If we let a defective bus in the road [and it killed someone]we would be up for manslaughter; that’s why these people should be taken to court.

“They are talking about taking the former prime minister to court for war crimes, but this is just as bad, if not worse. They knew about it and did nothing about it.

“The whole thing is shocking. The ministers in charge of it should have sorted something out, stopped it, changed it, re-directed it, I don’t know what.”

He added: “If I see Duncan Smith on the TV, I just have to walk out, turn it off. I hate the man with a vengeance.

“He has known what was going on and he did nothing about it. He wants to be dragged over the coals for this, and if I can help in any way I will.”

David’s mother Maureen – David senior’s ex-wife – also backed calls for a criminal prosecution.

She said: “It is time someone did something. [Otherwise] there will just be more like David and nothing is ever done.

“It makes you feel terrible that they should have done something [and didn’t].”

His father is certain that the decision to turn down David’s ESA claim was the trigger that led to his decision to kill himself, against a background of continuing financial pressures.

He remembers finding his son’s WCA report and all of his other official paperwork scattered over the floor of his flat after he died.

He said: “It was just dumped all over the floor; anything to do with anything official, he’d just had enough of it. That’s when I picked it up and read through it, this 33-page assessment.”

David’s mother Maureen said she believed the “fit for work” decision was “definitely” the trigger for his decision to take his own life.

She said: “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Several weeks after he died, two DWP officials visited the family and admitted that David should have been receiving ESA instead of jobseeker’s allowance for nearly two years.

David’s father said: “They were here for about an hour-and-a-half explaining everything. But these two – through Iain Duncan Smith – had killed my son, and I said this to them.

“They knew that what they had done was wrong and I said to them, ‘Had it been your children in my son’s situation, would you have acted the same way?’ They couldn’t answer that.

“I gave it to them with both barrels and they walked out with their tails between their legs, but it didn’t bring my son back.”

DWP paid the family £2,700 in compensation for the extra social security support David had not received while he was alive (the difference between the jobseeker’s allowance he received and the ESA he should have been receiving).

Maureen Barr said: “They turned around and said, ‘I don’t suppose it will help now, but we have reversed the decision.’

“I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘What good is that to him now?’”

  • User Ratings (18 Votes)
  • Scream Nevermore

    I’m no expert, but even I can see that ‘He reports he attempted an overdose six weeks ago’, and
    “He reports he has had no thoughts of suicide since,’ does not add up to ‘he is not at substantial risk’. Especially in someone whose medication was having such side effects. The ‘assessor’ should also be prosecuted.

    • Satisfactoryalternative?

      first consider whether there are sufficient staff to be able to take that punishment. And do they need punishing, do you think it would help them make better decisions, or rather frighten people off from the job? Its a terrible thing this man died the way he did, and this stuff needs to be better supported not victimised themselves! Who would work in those jobs otherwise, can you imagine the job. Sitting opposite twenty people a day all upset, all telling you similar things, must be incredibly tough. We cannot mind read yet either so equating this as malpractice seems incorrect unless we can say that we are 100% accurate at predictions or for that matter are able to support a system where the predictions are lower. You cant watch everybody all the time, and people kill themselves even under supervision anyway! Having a knee jerk reaction to things without looking at why things happen is only going to make things worse so wind ye neck in please. No wonder we are short staffed in healthcare roles with the lack of public support, mistakes in banking or other professions are much easier to overcome than the huge gut wrench of someone you tried to help proving that that help wasn’t enough!

      • Jacquelyn Killick

        I agree with all that you say. however, when a mere 6 weeks has passed since a persons attempt to end their life, even though no attempts were made after that, it does not mean the person is now “cured” and “over it” that can take months even years…. I know from experience. So the healthcare professional should be at least aware of this. If I, as a layman, non professional can see it, why couldn’t they?
        there has to be a line drawn in the sand, between proper assessment and govt.’s guidelines for assessment, in accordance with the Hippocratic oath mantra of “Do no harm”

      • The point here is that David Barr wasn’t helped. His request for help was dismissed on the basis of a 35-minute assessment and there was no attempt to seek further evidence from the medical professionals who knew him best. When he died, he had had just 36p left in his bank account. Perhaps the assessor should not be prosecuted, I don’t know. But the ministers responsible for failing to make this system safe, should.

      • KitKat

        Health Care Professionals? That is a joke! I am on serious class A medication for severe pain and Peripheral neuropathy causing me to be asleep, or unsteady on my feet, or on another planet, or the last two. Luckily, I have won every appeal for ESA, having got zero points. Now, every time I was dragged through a WCA I was told by the assessor **We DON’T take effects of ANY medication into account** Sorry but THAT in itself is malpractice!

        In hospital, one is told to stay in bed after been given morphine, and yet HCP’s working for the government say that you can work safely while on this medication! I am proof this is not so, having fallen downstairs and even passed out while under the influence! ONCE even being dragged (Literally) into a WCA while under the effects of pain medication! I had lost control of my legs as it kicked in. The HCP did not care! When it was obvious I was rubber, a NEW WCA was arranged, on the HCP’s advice!!! (Instead of the 15+ points I should have been awarded).

        You don’t have to be a mind reader, simply apply some common sense. Had the HCP did that, this young man would possibly be alive today. Why is the HCP not partly responsible for his death? Your argument, along with your excuses is empty. Had I died following the aforementioned WCA – the HCP – WOULD have been as guilty as the government. And just to add more, on EACH WCA – the HCP LIED through their teeth! Luckily for me, judges overruled them at appeal. And they had NO medical knowledge at all.

        The truth is that HCP’s are TOLD to fail people at WCA, whistle-blowers have confirmed this. The WCA is designed to kick recipients off benefit, and shirting blame is NOT the way to go. HCP’s MUST shoulder some of the blame when things go wrong. The HCP’s are partially responsible for anyone losing their benefits, as well as the aftermath following that. Being the government’s executioner is NO excuse, and never will be!

        • Satisfactoryalternative?

          Please consider in your reasoning how representative this case is. We demand a lot and that is because there is an ideal, which should be aspired to. My point again stands around whether people are reacting in a rational way. If malpractice I imagine the provider would have followed legal or policy or codes of practise. The point I think is important is not whether there was an individual to blame so much (I can understand how the family would want a pound if flesh and obviously if the person did not follow their workplaces codes and rules etc fair enough), its regarding the method itself. I.e. What evidence supports the approach taken using cases such as this poor mans. Personal perspectives are powerful one on one, however to be confident an improvement will be possible and will work you need evidence. Getting heated and irrational just makes the situation even worse. No wonder its psychopaths running the government etc if they are the ones who can take the barage of abuse and criticism. Look at the history, how far we have come, look at the morality how perspectives have changed, and focus outwards a little, this health and safety world has made everyone look inwards and think less for benefit of society and more if themselves.

  • David Mortimer

    Cutting public services in order to balance the budget deficit didn’t
    work between 2010 – 2015 & never will. We are already seeing studies
    which have been done in member states subjected to austerity &
    there has been a huge increase in suicides particularly in men under 35.
    How any of these countries leaders can be proud of what they are doing
    to their own people is truly astonishing

  • Satisfactoryalternative?

    Poor chap, why is the focus not on better support though? Why was he in the state he was, were the healthcare people equipped to help properly, are we ever able to predict someone’s behaviour accurately when they are mentally ill? Does punishing someone who is likely to be distressed that this happened have any benefits? What responsibility should the family take?

    • yannix

      There is hardly any ‘support’; there’s a crisis in mental health care from lack of investment by Govt. They prefer to fund wars; it make them and their mates more money.

  • Lisa Embury

    This poor guy, I suffer from mental health problems myself (anxiety and depression) and it is an constant struggle, with either tiredness or energies being up or down or fears of some sort invading your life and worries about how your going to make ends meet and the constant demands for money, when you are on a low income anyway, then they want you to work more hours and have less pay, we are not robots, if they want robots they have to build them, Life is a constant hassle or pressure of some kind, you are on edge a lot of the time with what is going to be the next situation around the next corner and this is without the depression thrown in? that when it really get dark, darker and darker and you can’t see a way through it.
    Again and again and again, these people, who dish out the their demand on the many are again and again allow to get away with it and we never seem to see any justice served on them, they seem to wriggle through the cracks of live like snake’s, it is intolerable what they do and get away with. Please do not let them get away with it any more.


    • yannix

      I’m virtually housebound with Fibromyalgia and can’t claim a dime. Worked 43 years.

  • triggeruk wait

    DWP paid the family £2,700 in
    compensation for the extra social security support David had not
    received while he was alive (the difference between the jobseeker’s
    allowance he received and the ESA he should have been receiving). An admission of guilt if ever I saw one.

    • yannix

      Blood money. To pay for a funeral; how kind of them. IDS is one of the biggest benefit welfare claimants in Britain; there are over 600 of them plus their hangers on in Westminster.

  • margery harper

    First, may I say how sorry I (and most people) are ,those of us aware and that have been fighting this fairly common scenario for the last ten years or so now. We are sorry that your son did not get to keep the diagnosis and fair treatment that was delivered to him by a professionally trained Doctor. He did not keep his dignity or the financial aid due to him as a result of medical diagnosis. What he got, was an Atos trained tickbox worker who had three months training. A worker who, was allowed to disregard medical diagnosis and make decisions that would lead to the total dismantling of this young mans life. Tens of thousands of such decisions have been made so far in this country with equally devastating results. Atos , a French I.T..tick box firm was enlisted under a Labour Govt, and continued under the Tories,despite a bad reputation in the States. What purpose it serves has been made quite clear, as it coincided with media demonisation of those who did not work. Many of us had friends or family in similar circumstances who ended up prematurely dead because of this psychological manipulation. Those who took part in this inhumane lie,and those who still do,along with the greyer area of mass indoctrination, are responsible for the deaths of sick and disabled UK citizens. Suicide was and is common, under this regime. Starvation and stress,causing drastic reduction in the immune system and often leading to cardiac arrest in vulnerable patients,are among some of the other causes.I only hope that justice is done, in the light of our relationship with the EU who may have prosecuted people like IDS,whose sudden u-turn was a pathetic attempt to mask his contempt for ordinary people. Somebody has made a lot of money on the back of Atos, we all now know who the real greedy claimants are. I challenge all of us to get even with them, and never let up. It won’t bring our loved ones back, but it may save somebody.