Fresh inquest hope for Jodey Whiting family

THE family of Jodey Whiting has been granted permission to apply to the High Court for a fresh inquest into her death after new evidence was submitted about the effect on her of a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decision to halt the benefits on which she was entirely dependent.

Ms Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, was granted permission by the office of the Attorney General following her submission that the original inquest into her daughter’s death was insufficient.

The new evidence she submitted in support of her application included an investigation into the handling of Ms Whiting’s benefits by the DWP and a report from an independent psychiatrist.

Ms Whiting, from Stockton-on-Tees, died aged 42 on February 21, 2017. She took her own life three days after she received her last Employment Support Allowance (ESA) payment.

She had been informed on February 6 that the payments would stop and the associated housing benefit and council tax benefit payments would also be stopped.

The decision to halt the payments was made because following a reassessment of Ms Whiting’s entitlement to ESA, begun in 2016, she had failed to attend a work capability assessment (WCA).

However, Ms Whiting had requested a home visit for the WCA as she rarely left the house because of her severely poor health. She suffered multiple physical and mental health difficulties, took 23 tablets a day and was entirely dependent on welfare benefits.

She had made in clear in her request for a home WCA that she had “suicidal thoughts a lot of the time and could not cope with work or looking for work”.

The request was refused, the WCA was set for a date in January, and Ms Whiting did not attend.

After her death, an inquest was held three months later, May 24, 2017, which lasted less than an hour. The coroner declined to consider the potential role of the DWP and their acts or omissions in her death.

Ms Whiting’s family were unrepresented and were unaware that they may have been entitled to publicly funded legal representation.

After the inquest a report by an Independent Case Examiner concluded that the DWP had made multiple significant errors in how it treated Ms Whiting. Some of the failings had not been known to her family, who were horrified to learn how many failings had occurred in the handling of her benefits.

The opinion of an independent consultant psychiatrist, sought by Ms Whiting’s family, confirmed that the DWP’s failings would probably have had a substantial effect on her mental state at the time she took her own life. Joy argues that the manner in which Ms Whiting was treated by the DWP, and in particular the withdrawal of her ESA, caused or materially contributed to her death and that had this not occurred, Ms Whiting’s death would not have occurred when it did.

Following the letter giving her permission to apply for a new inquest into her daughter’s death, Mrs Dove said:

“What a relief to be granted permission for a new inquest into Jodey’s death. It has been a nightmare but I want to thank the hard work of Merry Varney and all the team at Leigh Day and everyone who has been helping me with the Justice for Jodey campaign. This is a big step forward.

“I love my daughter so much and this should never have happened. How could they say she was fit to work? What they put her through was terrible, but I hope that this will mean that Jodey has saved others from the same nightmare.”

Mrs Dove is represented by Leigh Day partner Merry Varney, who added:

“The Attorney-General’s decision is very welcome. It is the first completed step in the long journey by Jodey’s family to seek a full and fearless investigation into whether the DWP, and its flawed decision-making regarding Jodey’s benefits claim, caused or contributed to her death. We must now apply to the High Court and seek to persuade the Court a fresh inquest is necessary.”

The application for a new inquest will be made to the High Court within the next six weeks and a final hearing may take place by summer, 2021.

The Northern Echo | Teesside