The coroner who heard an inquest into a man who starved to death after his benefits were wrongly removed is to press the government for information about a promised review into how it protects “vulnerable” claimants.
Dr Elizabeth Didcock, Nottingham’s assistant coroner, has also welcomed the huge public interest in the “very sad and tragic death” of Errol Graham, since it was first reported by Disability News Service (DNS) last month.
Last week, the family of Errol Graham (pictured) called on Dr Didcock to reopen the inquest into his death so she could write an official report that would demand urgent action from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to prevent further such deaths.
But Dr Didcock has now written to DNS to point out that she has no legal powers to do so.
She said she had carried out a “broad and detailed” inquiry into the circumstances of Errol Graham’s death, and that her decision not to write a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report – that would have sought urgent changes by DWP – was based on the evidence she heard at the inquest.
DNS had asked her if she would consider reopening the inquest to consider evidence that DWP hid from the inquest and which demonstrated its decade-long history of failing to act on warnings that its “fitness for work” assessment process was linked to the deaths of benefit claimants.
Dr Didcock concluded at the end of last June’s inquest that the “safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it”.
She also said that DWP should have obtained more evidence from his GP at the time his employment and support allowance was stopped so it could “make a more informed decision about him”.
But she concluded that she did not need to write a PFD report to demand changes to DWP’s procedures because the department had promised her it was already completing a review of its safeguarding and that this would focus on “support and safety for vulnerable people”.
That review was supposed to conclude last autumn but it does not yet appear to have been completed or published.
Dr Didcock has now told DNS that she does not have the legal powers to reopen the inquest.
But she said she would ask DWP what had happened to its safeguarding review.
She wrote: “The Investigation into this case is now complete, and the case is closed.
“I have no further legal basis for considering further evidence, nor for issuing a PFD report.
“Furthermore, I have no power to review the findings and conclusions of cases heard by other Coroners and it would be quite improper for me to do so.
“I can however request an update on the DWP Safeguarding Policy Review if this has not been completed, and I shall do so.”
Alison Turner, the partner of Errol Graham’s son, who has led the fight to secure justice, said: “It’s disappointing that the coroner doesn’t have those powers when there is a question of being misled [at the inquest] but I do respect her position.”
She said she would ask the coroner to share with her any information she secured from DWP about the safeguarding review.
A DWP spokesperson failed to comment by noon today (Thursday) on the progress of the safeguarding review.
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