13 October 2021
In Dove v HM Assistant Coroner to Teesside and Hartlepool & Anor  EWHC 2511, the High Court considered the State’s obligations under article 2 ECHR with respect to those in receipt of welfare benefits as well as the scope of coronial inquiries both where article 2 is and isn’t engaged. Although it was argued that failings by the Department of Work and Pensions were relevant to a death by suicide, a fresh inquest was refused in the circumstances.
The Applicant’s daughter, Ms Whiting suffered with spinal conditions and numerous mental health conditions. As a result, she was awarded employment support allowance [ESA] under the ‘support group’ category.
In September 2016, Ms Whiting began reassessment. By way of questionnaire she requested a home assessment, indicating she rarely left the house due to mobility issues and anxiety. This was not passed to the Centre for Health and Disability Services [CHDA] who decided that she was to attend a face-to-face appointment on 16th January 2017. On 6th February 2017, Ms Whiting was informed that her ESA would be stopped as she had not shown ‘good cause’ for her failure to attend and had not therefore demonstrated limited capacity for work.
On 21st February 2017 Ms Whiting, was tragically found unresponsive and was later pronounced dead. An inquest concluded she had died by suicide as a short-form conclusion. The Coroner told attendees that she had noted that there were ongoing discussions with the Department of Work and Pensions, but that it was not her function to question any decisions made by the Department.
However, a report by the Independent Case Examiner [ICE] in February 2019 (following a complaint made before the inquest had concluded) subsequently found that there had been “significant failings” by the Department in the events leading up to Ms Whiting’s death.
The Applicant applied to the Court under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 for an order quashing the Coroner’s determination and directing that a new inquest take place.
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