Mother of woman who killed herself after benefits stopped will 'keep on fighting' for new inquest

Joy Dove Credit: PA

The mother of a housebound disabled woman who killed herself after her benefits were cut has said she will "keep on fighting" after she lost a High Court bid for a fresh inquest into her daughter’s death.

Jodey Whiting, 42, from Stockton-on-Tees, died in February 2017 around two weeks after her disability benefit was stopped when she did not attend a work capability assessment.

Her mother, Joy Dove, asked the High Court in London in June to grant a new inquest to investigate the role of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in Ms Whiting’s death.

On Friday, Lord Justice Warby, Mrs Justice Farbey and Judge Thomas Teague QC – the chief coroner for England and Wales – dismissed the claim, finding the original inquest was sufficient.

Jodey Whiting, a 42-year-old mother of nine children, lived through many years of mental and physical illness. Credit: Family handout

After the decision, Ms Dove told ITV News:  "I'm disappointed it's not what we were hoping for but I won't give up. This is not the end, I'll keep on fighting for my Jodey."She added: “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that the behaviour of the DWP has been shocking and I welcome the High Court ruling that Jodey’s ESA should never been withdrawn."

The original inquest, which lasted 37 minutes, determined that Ms Whiting had taken her own life.

Ms Dove’s lawyers argued there were “multiple, significant failings” by the DWP when it terminated her daughter’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) that were not considered at the previous inquest.

Mrs Justice Farbey said it would not be in the interests of justice for a new inquest, adding: “It is likely to remain a matter of speculation as to whether or not the department’s decision caused Ms Whiting’s suicide.

"I found letters she wrote. No money. Can’t pay the bills. This is the life of Jodey Whiting. She just gave up hope," Joy recalls:

“In my judgment, it would be extremely difficult for a new inquest to conclude that the department caused Ms Whiting’s death.”

At the hearing earlier this year, the court heard Ms Whiting had received benefits for more than a decade due to serious, long-term physical and mental health issues, including severe pain and a history of self-harm.

In late 2016, the DWP started to reassess Ms Whiting, who said she needed a house visit as she was housebound, had severe anxiety and was unable to walk more than a few steps.

Ms Dove’s lawyers argued that a house visit was not properly considered before the DWP terminated her disability benefit, which led to Ms Whiting’s housing benefit and council tax benefit also being terminated.

The decision to terminate Ms Whiting’s benefit was overturned on March 31, weeks after her death.

The independent case examiner (ICE), the body which investigates complaints about the DWP, later found multiple breaches of department policy, significant errors by staff and several “missed opportunities” for the DWP to reconsider the claim.

Jonathan Hough QC, for the coroner’s service, told the High Court in June that the coroner had called sufficient evidence to address how Ms Whiting died.

“It is unquestionable that the failures of DWP staff were serious and indefensible but that does not mean that the first inquest was inadequate,” he said.

Flowers and a message by Jodey Whiting's grave Credit: ITV News

In the judgment, Mrs Justice Farbey agreed and said: “It is not necessary and would not be in the public interest for a coroner to engage in an extensive inquiry into the department’s decision-making.

“The fact that the ICE found numerous significant failings does not mean that an inquest should adduce substantial evidence about them.”

“The inquest conducted by the coroner was short but fair. It covered the legal ground and dealt with the evidence before the coroner including the views of Ms Whiting’s family,” she concluded.

Where can you go to get help?

The NHS and several charities across the UK offer various resources and helplines for people who need help and for people who think someone they care about needs support.

  • Mind has a helpline on 0300 123 3393.

  • The Samaritans, which helps people who feel suicidal can be contacted on 116 123.

  • YoungMinds who support young people with mental health issues can be contacted on 0808 802 5544.

  • The NHS has a resource page offering various routes to support here.