Sister launches judicial review claim in bid for sanctions death inquest

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The sister of a disabled man who died after being left destitute by having his benefits sanctioned has launched a high court legal challenge over a coroner’s refusal to hold an inquest into his death.

David Clapson (pictured), who had diabetes, died in July 2013 as a result of an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.

Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, in the height of summer, and he had also run out of food.

An autopsy held after his death found his stomach was empty, and the only food left in his flat in Stevenage was six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date can of sardines. He had just £3.44 left in his bank account.

But despite the circumstances of his death, and clear links with the sanctions system, no inquest was ever held, even though DWP admitted that it knew he was insulin-dependent.

Now Clapson’s sister, Gill Thompson, has issued a judicial review and human rights claim in the high court, challenging the refusal of the senior coroner for Hertfordshire to hold an inquest into her brother’s death.

Thompson has been campaigning for an inquest to be held in a bid to secure answers and change the sanctions system she believes led to her brother’s death.

She has set up a crowdfunding account to pay for her legal battle, and needs to raise another £7,000 to reach her target.

Her solicitor, Merry Varney, from human rights lawyers Leigh Day, is arguing that Clapson died an “unnatural death” because of the benefit sanction imposed on him shortly before he died.

Last year, Varney wrote to the Hertfordshire senior coroner, Geoffrey Sullivan, to ask him to overturn the decision not to hold an inquest.

But he refused to order an inquest, and said that “the evidence does not support either a direct or contributory causal link between the imposition of the benefit sanction and Mr Clapson’s death”, while there was “no evidence as to whether the benefit sanction was imposed properly or not”.

Varney said: “A DWP-imposed benefit sanction left David with no income, unable to afford food or electricity, circumstances which diabetes experts agree could easily render his condition fatal.

“The law requires a coroner to hold an inquest into certain deaths and we believe the circumstances of David’s death clearly trigger this duty.

“Our client, who has campaigned since her brother’s death, is asking the high court to quash the coroner’s refusal so that a full, fair and fearless inquest can take place, and so that issues of significant wider public importance concerning benefit sanctions and vulnerable people are properly considered.”

Thompson added: “The thing that continues to haunt me is that the DWP knew David was an insulin dependent diabetic, yet they stated: ‘…we followed procedures and no errors were made.’

Diabetes is a serious condition, which in cases such as David’s requires both food and insulin to stay healthy.

“I feel that the sanction resulting in my brother being left destitute and having no money to chill his insulin or to buy food, ultimately led to his untimely death.

“Going to court is an option of last resort but I feel compelled to use every effort to ensure that the impact of the DWP imposed benefit sanction on David’s death is properly and independently investigated.

“I believe the DWP continue to impose sanctions on diabetic benefit claimants and not only for my brother’s sake, but also for others at risk, I hope the high court grants me permission to challenge the coroner’s decision.”

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  • JessieBirdsall

    A very sad circumstance, but, objectively, the coroner found no clear link, direct or indirect, to DWP and the benefit sanction. To say otherwise is an opinion that is unfounded, unlike that of the coroner. So, playing devil’s advocate, if the coroner thought DWP was not implicated and DWP believe the sanction was imposed correctly, then perhaps Mr Clapson has some personal responsibility here? After all benefit was in payment and his needs, nominally, being met by the taxpayer up to the point he failed to fulfill his responsibilities to the state to maintain his right to benefit. One appointment missed us understandable, but two?

    DWP are correct, if someone is on JSA they are likely to be controlling their diabetes and would be unlikely to expect it to affect their chances of finding work. The risk would be low. If the diabetes was actually disabling then Mr Clapson would or should have been claiming ESA. If Mr Clapson appeared to be coping effectively why would DWP assume otherwise? What input did Mr Clapsons GP have? If his diabetes was so debilitating surely they would have advised claiming ESA?

    The other point to consider here is Mr Clapson’s family. I’m sure I wouldn’t allow my siblings, if in need, to go without food and power. Nor if they were unable to do so themselves would I stand by and suffer an unjust sanction. Perhaps the coroner ought to investigate the failure of familial as well as state support?

    This case clearly has contributory factors way beyond the DWP sanction. Laying fault solely at DWPs door is myopic. However the narrative is a good fit for this echo chamber.

    • It’s not unfounded at all. It’s a difference of opinion. The opinion of the coroner, who decided not to hold an inquest, versus the opinions of David Clapson’s family, and their friends and supporters, diabetes experts and lawyers, who disagree. The right place for this to be decided is in the high court. I think it would be a very sad day if we decided that a coroner is always right, just because he is a coroner. Also, your comments about his family are cruel and wrong. His sister has made it very clear that her brother was a proud man who did not like to ask for help. They did not know how desperate his situation was. If they had known, they would have helped. Shame on you for casting such awful aspersions. And as for your comments about ESA, they are just comical.

      • joanna

        Are you telling me that his sister didn’t visit him. The comment about his family are valid!!! Would it really take three weeks to find out he is struggling? People need to take responsibility for each other, then maybe what the DWP are doing can be minimized.

      • joanna

        Are you also suggesting that we ignore professionals such as coroners, why, because they don’t have your opinion? Would you also disbelieve your doctor, if he made a diagnosis you couldn’t accept?
        Are you a coroner?
        Also the commentator did mention the words “devil’s advocate”.
        Personally I think she ignored her brother, and is now trying to cash in for it! That is my opinion and I am entitled to it!!!

    • Jen Young

      I agree with disability news service. Having been through the assessment process more than once and had to fight tooth and nail for my ESA many people are on Jobseekers when they should be on ESA. The stress of it all made me more ill by blood pressure went up and my GP sent me to hospital the week of my assessment as it was so out of control.
      My assessment consisted of many lies by the Atos Doctor and I had to complain. I recorded it so I had proof.
      I cant help wondering if Jessie is one of those people paid for by the Government she is so out of touch its a joke. We are all taxpayers everything we buy is taxed. I worked and paid National Insurance so if I became ill I would get sickness benefits that is the system I paid into. That is not to say that people who haven’t paid in because of illness should not get benefits. I think we should look after the vulnerable something that clearly did not happen in this case. The problem with the DWP is that they frequently sanction people incorrectly they know this happening, its about time they were made accountable for all the deaths and suffering they have caused. I hope Mr Clapsons family lawyers are able to achieve this. The DWP are literally getting away with murder.

    • Sue Jones

      Type 1 diabetes isn’t always stable. It’s a condition that varies considerably, and the fact that the sanction caused a situation where Mr Clapson couldn’t store his medication safely meant that he couldn’t manage his condition via diet and medication, which contributed to his death. Once people become very ill – and keytone acidosis is extremely disabling – they are not very likely to be able to ask for help. Keytone acidosis very often brings on a on a change in mental status, anxiety, confusion, extreme weakness, coma and death. I seriously doubt Mr Clapson was in a fit state to go and speak to his sister by the time he became seriously ill.
      Mr Clapson managed his diabetes sufficiently well enough to sign on. The sanction put him in a position where he could no longer manage his illness and take his medication.

      The DWP claim that support is provided for the most vulnerable, and that includes people on JSA. We have a welfare system that was designed to support people in need, and it clearly failed Mr Clapson. There are other people with medical conditions who sign on to find work, usually people do so when their condition has been stable for a while and they feel able to work.

      It’s not possible for a family member to contact the DWP to discuss a claimant’s circumstances on behalf of someone else, as the DWP don’t discuss a case with anyone but the claimant concerned. Challenging a sanction takes far too long to have saved Mr Clapson, even if he had managed to appeal, it would have taken more than a couple of weeks to have his lifeline income reinstated, had the original decision been reversed.

    • Sue Jones

      The world isn’t divided into tax payers and benefit claimants. People on benefits have largely worked and contributed tax and national insurance, including people with disability. People claiming welfare also pay tax, from council tax and other stealth taxes, increasingly, to VAT, which contributes a significant amount to the Treasury every year. The whole point of welfare is that we pay for it whilst we work, and it is there for us when we need support. Your “tax payer’s resentment” is completely unfounded. Though it is remarkably reminiscent of a right wing neoliberal echo chamber.

    • Rebecca

      I have a good understanding of how coroners decisions are made through both my partner’s work with the CPS and Met Police and through having spoken to a coroner in just such a situation. A coroner has a very circumscribed frame within which a cause of death will be noted as: Diabetic ketosis if diabetic ketosis is the cause of death, bipolar if the letter left states depression anbd victim is known to be bipolar (regardless of a recent DWP asessment which family knew to have aggratated his bipolar. Drugs may be stated only if present in the system at time of death even in a known addict. So say that because a coroner found no _clear_ link, DWP bear no fault is facile.

      “Devil’s advocate” does not mean what you believe it does and the DWP belief that a sanction was imposed correctly does not make it so and your belief that this would make lies truth is rather undermined by your vile neoliberal claims of “personal responsibility.” Your use of language is suggestive of a very recent acquaintance with current DWP and Govt justifications for benefit deaths and is almost suggestive of professional ‘expertise’ rather undermines your claim in another thread to be one of the disabled community. Whether you have an illness or impairment your viewpoints are not those which make you part of this community. As for any siblings you might have, having met people with a vested interest in Tory sucess i am sure that you in fact WOULD sell your own mother and I have seen Tory parents also stand by and suffer just such an unjust circumstances leading to their child’s death. I find it ofinterest that you speak of a “failure of familial support”

      As for myopia, there you go again – disablist assumptions and language unbefitting anything but a neoliberal DWP “Reform” echo chamber. The only place such rot is fit for.

  • ‘Jessie’, as your comments have been potentially quite offensive to the family, I think it’s right to ask who you are, and what perspective you are coming from. I agree there is a risk that DNS can become an ‘echo chamber’ in which only people who agree with the thrust of the stories will read them and comment, which is why I would like to engage with you if possible. It would be useful to know why you feel so strongly about this issue, and why you would make what appear to me to be ill-considered and offensive remarks.

    • JessieBirdsall

      “DNS Mod” My name is Jessie and I am posting to provide an alternative view and simply posed a question that has not been addressed in any of this reporting. I repect your right to be offended. That is your choice driven by your own sensibilities. But, the fact that you are offended is neither here nor there. It does not make the question invalid. You should equally respect my right to ask the question.

      • I think I’d like a little more information than just that you are called ‘Jessie’. I’m always happy to engage with criticism, but am much more likely to do so if someone is not hiding behind anonymity. And it’s not a question of my ‘sensibilities’, it is objectively offensive to make remarks like this about David Clapson’s family without any evidence whatsoever. You are also, in your comments, coming perilously close to saying that it was David Clapson’s fault that he died when he actually had no money to stay alive because he had been sanctioned. Which is, objectively, offensive.
        John, editor, DNS

      • Sue Jones

        Your right to ask a question doesn’t mean that all questions have equal validity, worth and value, or warrant a response.

  • Jen Young

    I strongly disagree my experience is very relevant. If I didn’t fight my inaccurate assessment that was full of lies I would have been on JSA. despite being too ill to work. You have to claim this if you want to get any money to live on the DWP have made it this way they changed the rules. We don’t know all the background to Mr Clarksons situation but you are so quick to be judge and jury. I suspect you are working for the DWP. My own personal experience with the DWP has been a nightmare and I know of many other people that are struggling and having a terrible time. As for sanctions it has come to light that job centre staff have targets. I stand by my statement, it isnt ludicrous at all far from it. You are making too many assumptions. You need to take your judgemental head out of the sand (im being polite here) and wake up and smell the crap.

  • Sue Jones

    He was declaring himself AVAILABLE for work when he signed on, that isn’t quite the same thing as “fit”. As I pointed out elsewhere, people with medical conditions sign on to find work, that doesn’t guarrantee that their condition will remain stable. Jobcentres are supposed to take this into account.