A coroner who heard the inquest into a man who starved to death after his benefits were wrongly removed has been urged to act on information showing the government failed to pass her evidence linking its actions with other deaths.
The family of Errol Graham (pictured) have called on Nottingham’s assistant coroner Dr Elizabeth Didcock to reopen the inquest so she can write an official report that would call on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to take urgent action to prevent further deaths.
Disability News Service (DNS) has passed information to Dr Didcock which shows how DWP hid from the inquest its decade-long history of failing to act on evidence that its “fitness for work” assessment process was linked to the deaths of benefit claimants.
The evidence includes reports written by two other coroners, in 2010 and 2014, following the deaths of two benefit claimants that each took place in similar circumstances to those that led to Errol Graham losing his life.
In both 2010 and 2014, the coroners told DWP to take urgent action to improve its WCA system to avoid further deaths of people living with mental distress.
But on both occasions, DWP ministers and senior civil servants failed to act, and even later covered up evidence linking the work capability assessment (WCA) process with claimant deaths.
Last month, DNS revealed how 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 said then that DWP should have obtained more evidence from his GP at the time his employment and support allowance (ESA) was stopped so it could “make a more informed decision about him”.
But she concluded that she did not need to write what is known as a regulation 28 report – also known as a prevention of future deaths report – to demand changes to DWP’s safeguarding procedures because the department promised her it was already completing a review of its safeguarding and that it would focus on “support and safety for vulnerable people”.
That review was supposed to conclude last autumn.
Alison Turner, the partner of Errol Graham’s son, who has led the fight to secure justice, this week called on Dr Didcock to revisit her decision not to write a prevention of future deaths report.
She said: “I am asking her to look again at her original decision, based on the information that is out there and based on the fact that DWP have been reported twice already by coroners.
“Errol’s death would have been avoided had DWP addressed what they were told in the past.”
Turner said that, when the coroners warned in 2010 and 2014 that other claimants would die in the future if DWP did not address the flaws in the WCA process, “Errol is the person that that coroner is speaking about”.
She added: “I think that link is quite serious: the coroner [at Errol’s inquest] should have looked into that.
“She was a really nice woman, but I think she let [DWP’s] manipulative ways get the better of her.
“She should look at what evidence is available now and relook at her original decision not to write a report.
“She has a duty to Errol to relook at that decision.
“I don’t hold any ill-will against her, and I can’t hold her responsible for the decision at the time.
“She did what she had to do at the time, based on the information she had, but given the information we now know, I would expect her to revisit the decision that she made.
“I would be upset if she didn’t.”
She spoke out after scores of people attended a vigil in the centre of Nottingham on Friday to remember Errol Graham and to call for justice.
Diana Burton, his ex-partner, who stayed on good terms with him after they split up more than 10 years ago, spoke at the vigil, although Turner was not well enough to attend.
Burton said afterwards: “I was overwhelmed by the support and kindness of everyone who came to the vigil for Errol.
“I thanked them all for coming and went on to say that no one should [die] again in the same circumstances that led to Errol’s death.
“I said this system needed to change and that it is unacceptable what happened to Errol in this day and age.”
She was handed a bunch of flowers and a card expressing sympathy for the family’s loss and ordeal by members of the Socialist Equality Party.
Errol Graham starved to death two years ago after DWP removed his ESA, leaving him without any income.
A civil servant told an inquest into his death last summer that DWP staff followed departmental guidance and had acted “appropriately” by leaving him with no income.
They had stopped his benefits when they were unable to contact him to discuss why he had not turned up to a WCA.
Deprived of all financial support, experiencing significant mental distress and unable or unwilling to seek help, the 57-year-old slowly starved to death.
Over the last decade, the deaths of disabled people like Errol Graham have been linked repeatedly to DWP’s failure to secure further medical evidence about claimants, and to confirm the welfare of claimants seen as vulnerable, before removing their benefits, with at least one other claimant starving to death after being found “fit for work”.
These include the deaths of Stephen Carré, Jodey Whiting, Mark Wood, Paul Donnachie, Michael O’Sullivan, David Barr and a woman known only as Ms DE, as well as many others.