Three judges have rejected a mother’s bid to secure a second inquest into the death of her disabled daughter – who killed herself after her benefits were wrongly stopped – despite one of the judges criticising the “shocking” failures in the case.
Campaigner Joy Dove had asked the high court to quash the result of the first inquest into the death of her daughter, Jodey Whiting, and to order a second one.
Mrs Justice Farbey, who delivered the longest of the three judgements, said the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were “shocking” and that the decision to remove her employment and support allowance (ESA) “should not have happened”.
But she concluded that DWP’s errors “amounted to individual failings attributable to mistakes or bad judgment” and were not “systemic or structural in nature”, and that it would be “extremely difficult for a new inquest to conclude that the Department caused Ms Whiting’s death”.
The three judges unanimously rejected Dove’s application for a second inquest, despite the Independent Case Examiner concluding in February 2019 that DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to Jodey Whiting’s suicide.
Dove (pictured) wants a detailed examination of DWP’s actions, which she believes caused her daughter’s death, just as another coroner thoroughly investigated DWP’s role in the death of Philippa Day.
Gordon Clow, the coroner who heard the inquest into Philippa Day’s death, concluded in January that flaws in the disability benefits system were “the predominant factor and the only acute factor” that led to her taking her own life.
He had reached that decision after a nine-day inquest that uncovered multiple failings by both DWP and its private sector contractor Capita in the 11 months that led up to her death in October 2019.
It was just the latest evidence of DWP’s institutional failure to guarantee the safety of disabled people – particularly those with a history of mental distress – within the disability benefits system.
Scores of deaths have been linked to DWP’s systemic failings, including its refusal to act on reports by coroners following inquests in 2010 and 2014.
Disability News Service revealed last December that DWP staff had had to be repeatedly reminded what to do when claimants threatened to take their own lives, following secret reviews into as many as six suicides linked to the benefit system.
Those reviews suggest that a series of suicides between 2014 and 2019 were linked to the failure of DWP staff to follow basic rules that had been introduced in 2009.
Despite last week’s high court ruling, all three judges agreed that there had been significant failings by DWP in dealing with Jodey Whiting’s case.
The mother-of-nine and grandmother from Stockton-on-Tees had taken her own life in February 2017, 15 days after she had her ESA mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.
The 42-year-old had been taking 23 tablets a day at the time she died, for conditions including scoliosis and bipolar disorder, and had been taking morphine twice daily.
She had been a long-time claimant of incapacity benefit, and then ESA, and DWP and its assessors had previously noted the severity of her mental health condition, and the risk that would be posed if she was found fit for work, and they were aware of her long history of suicidal ideation.
But the inquest into her death, which took place in May 2017, lasted just 37 minutes.
The coroner had turned down Dove’s request to examine DWP’s actions.
Dove, who is now considering whether to apply for permission to appeal the high court’s decision, said: “I am bitterly disappointed by the high court’s ruling.
“More than four years on from losing Jodey, the DWP has still not had to answer for the role that I believe they played in her death.
“Despite dismissing my application, the judgment makes it clear that the behaviour of the DWP has been shocking and I welcome the high court ruling that Jodey’s ESA should never have been withdrawn.
“This is not the end. I am not giving up and I will continue to fight for justice for Jodey.
“Thank you to all those that have supported me in this fight so far.”
Merry Varney, a partner at law firm Leigh Day, who is representing Dove, said: “I echo Joy’s disappointment with the court’s ruling, which we will be looking at carefully with Joy and advising her about an appeal.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “This is an incredibly tragic case and our condolences remain with Ms Whiting’s family.”
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…