The “warrior” mum of a disabled woman who took her own life after her benefits were cut has welcomed another crucial stage in her fight for justice, which is now well into its seventh year.
Joy Dove (pictured) was at Teesside Magistrates’ Court in Middlesbrough on Friday for a pre-inquest review, ahead of a second inquest into the death of her daughter, Jodey Whiting, which is set to take place in the spring.
The Court of Appeal ordered a second inquest into the 42-year-old’s suicide in March so there could be a public examination of the “consequences” of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stopping the benefits of disabled people who rely on social security.
Senior coroner Clare Bailey pledged on Friday that there would now be a “full and fearless” inquest.
The first inquest into the death of the mother-of-nine and grandmother, from Stockton-on-Tees, took place in May 2017 and lasted just 37 minutes.
It failed to examine DWP’s role in her death or take evidence from any DWP witnesses, and it lasted just 37 minutes.
There was no criticism of DWP by the coroner, even though Jodey’s mother had told the inquest that she blamed the department for her daughter’s death, her sister Donna had said that having her benefits stopped had been a “triggering factor” in Jodey taking her own life, and Jodey’s daughter Emma had blamed DWP for her mum’s death.
Joy, who is also disabled, has been campaigning for justice for her daughter since approaching the local newspaper, the Gazette, just days after Jodey’s death.
Jodey’s sister Donna told Disability News Service (DNS) this week: “I have watched my mam crying her eyes out in the first video interview she did, and then gone from that to this warrior woman.
“What she’s done, it amazes me. Now my mam is a political activist and warrior. I’m proud of her.”
Joy told DNS that she did not believe she had changed over the years of her battle for justice.
She said: “I am just me and I just thank everybody who has helped me get this far.
“I don’t look at the enormity of it even though I know it’s important and it’s taking on the government and the DWP.”
She said earlier that the pre-inquest review was “an important step” in her legal journey, and she thanked her family and her legal team at solicitors Leigh Day, led by human rights partner Merry Varney, for their crucial support.
She said: “I hope that the full inquest will help us finally get to the truth and will initiate vital change, as well as providing justice for Jodey.”
Jodey Whiting took her own life in February 2017, 15 days after her employment and support allowance (ESA) was wrongly stopped by DWP for missing a work capability assessment.
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 distress, and the risk of harm if she was found fit for work, and they were aware of her long history of suicidal thoughts.
The high court rejected Dove’s request for a second inquest in September 2021, despite two key pieces of new evidence.
But the Court of Appeal ruled in March that it was “in the interests of justice” for there to be another inquest.
Among the new evidence that will be considered by the second inquest will be a report by the Independent Case Examiner, which concluded in February 2019 that DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide.
A second piece of evidence – which was crucial in persuading the Court of Appeal to overturn the high court judgment and order a second inquest – was a report by psychiatrist Dr Trevor Turner, who said Whiting’s mental state was likely to have been “substantially affected” by DWP’s actions.
Varney said: “It is a privilege to represent Joy and her long legal battle has not just been about getting justice for her daughter Jodey, but also has shone a light on DWP failings more generally and the impact these can have.
“The pre-inquest review hearing today marks the first step in the second inquest into Jodey’s death, which the Court of Appeal ordered must take place earlier this year so that the question of whether the DWP’s failings in stopping Jodey’s employment and support allowance caused or contributed to Jodey’s death can be fully, fearlessly and publicly examined.”
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