A mother who has asked the attorney general for permission to seek a second inquest into her disabled daughter’s suicide says it would boost growing calls for an inquiry into all deaths linked to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Jodey Whiting (pictured) took her own life in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA).
The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded last year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.
Now her mother, Joy Dove, has told attorney general Geoffrey Cox that the original inquest in May 2017, which lasted less than an hour, failed to investigate DWP’s potential role in her daughter’s death, and that new evidence has since emerged.
This new evidence includes the ICE conclusions, and a report from a consultant psychiatrist who found that DWP’s failings would probably have had a substantial effect on Whiting’s mental state at the time she took her own life.
Her family had no legal representative at the inquest and were unaware that they could have been entitled to public funding to ensure they had one.
Dove, from Stockton-on-Tees, told Disability News Service that she believed a new inquest would “open the floodgates” and increase pressure for an independent inquiry into all deaths linked to DWP’s failings.
She said she was “determined to continue to fight for justice”.
She said: “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.”
Her call for a new inquest has been backed by grassroots groups of disabled people which last year supported a petition in her daughter’s name that demanded an independent inquiry into her death and the many others linked to DWP failings, and was signed by more than 55,000 people.
Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, which supports and campaigns for disabled women, said Jodey Whiting had been “treated appallingly” by DWP and the “profiteer company” Maximus, which carries out WCAs on behalf of the government.
She said: “We helped her mum Joy Dove with her legal case, from our experience supporting Gill Thompson [the sister of David Clapson, another claimant whose death was linked to DWP failings], and we want the attorney general to agree to a new inquest.
“Joy Dove is brilliant, she is determined to get Justice for Jodey and to help others.
“The DWP made assurances to her about improvements, while in reality, things are getting even worse.”
Glasman said that disabled people “live in fear of losing benefits and daily living services, and being left destitute”, while women “face discrimination from decision-makers on mental distress, being single mothers, racism and all kinds of prejudices”.
She said: “We’re a self-help group and support many disabled women terrified they are going to get cut off in the benefit assessment process, or who contact us after it has happened, who are suicidal.”
Michelle Maher, from WOWcampaign, said she heard Joy Dove speak about her fight for justice at a fringe event at last September’s Labour party conference.
She said: “I hope with all my heart that the lives destroyed by the hostile environment created by Tories have their day in court. For Jodey and countless others.”
Carole Ford, also from WOWcampaign, said the inquest into Jodey’s death had been “perfunctory” and the way it was conducted had been “astonishing”, and that coroners in future cases “need to be mindful of their duty to seek the truth, without favour or fear”.
There was also support for Jodey Whiting’s family from Disability Rights UK (DR UK).
Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said DWP’s failure to follow its own procedures “highlights the need for a root and branch change to our system of social protection for disabled people”, which should “meet the needs of disabled people and provide safety and support” in how it is run.
He said an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions “would create the opportunity to gather robust evidence on the way the benefits system is administrated and how it impacts on people who need to use it”.
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said on Twitter: “Sending solidarity to Jodey Whiting’s family.
“There is an urgent need for an independent inquiry into these deaths. It is not enough for [DWP] to be its own judge and jury.”
Dove’s legal team has requested permission for an application to the high court for a second inquest.
The attorney general is likely to acknowledge the request within a week, but his office said that reaching decisions in such cases “takes considerable time” as they had to be considered “with the utmost care and attention”.
Merry Varney, from legal firm Leigh Day, which is acting for the family, said there was now “clear evidence that the decision-making by the DWP which led to her benefits being terminated was completely flawed”.
She said: “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.”
A caseworker in the Attorney General’s Office will now review the file, request any missing information, invite submissions from the coroner and others with an interest in the case, then seek comments from Dove and her legal team, before a decision is made on her request.
DWP refused to comment, although it referred to previous statements it had made “on this issue”*.
*These statements can be accessed by searching on the DNS website for “Jodey Whiting”