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Submissions from lawyers call for inquest into death of ex-soldier who died following benefits sanction

Lawyers acting on behalf of the sister of a 59-year-old ex-soldier who died in 2013 after he was ‘sanctioned’ by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) are calling for an inquest into his death.

David Clapson

31 October 2016

In submissions to the Hertfordshire Coroner sent on Friday 28 October 2016, law firm Leigh Day have argued that a fresh investigation should be opened into the death of David Clapson, from Stevenage, on the basis that he died an unnatural death due to the imposition and effects of the benefit sanction imposed on him shortly before and in force at the time of his death.

The submissions from the human rights team at Leigh Day set out that the benefit sanction arguably played a contributing or causative factor in the death of Mr Clapson and that therefore an Inquest must be held.

Previously a Coroner denied further investigation and an Inquest on the basis that the death was due to natural causes.

The law firm, which is representing Mr Clapson’s sister Gill Thompson, also argue that there is a strong public interest in conducting a fresh investigation into the death of Mr Clapson to ensure that the full circumstances are publicly investigated, relevant systems are scrutinised and lessons are learnt.

Public interest in the issue of the DWP and the benefits system as a whole has been heightened by the release of the critically acclaimed film I, Daniel Blake, which looks at the bureaucracy at the heart of the benefits system.

In the submissions to the Coroner lawyers contend: “The role played by the imposition of a benefit sanction in Mr. Clapson’s death, the systems in place to manage the risks posed by benefit sanctions to those who receive them, and the decision-making of DWP staff when imposing benefit sanctions on vulnerable and at-risk individuals, are of wider public importance and are matters of significant public concern. These matters have been considered in a number of reviews and reports, which support Ms. Thompson’s submissions on the strong public interest in this case.”

David Clapson was a Lance Corporal in the Royal Signals serving in Belfast at the height of the troubles before leaving the army to work for BT. After working for the telecommunications firm for 16 years and a further 8 years for other companies and then became a carer for his sick mother.  

According to his sister, David was a proud and private man who found asking for help very difficult. He also suffered Type 1 Diabetes and relied on regular insulin shots to survive.    

David died in July 2013 from fatal diabetic ketoacidosis which occurs when a severe lack of insulin means the body cannot use glucose for energy, and the body starts to break down other body tissue as an alternative energy source.  

The Department for Work and Pensions had sanctioned him for a month, leaving him unable to afford to top up his electricity key and unable to afford food having stopped his £71.70 Job Seekers Allowance after he failed to attend two appointments.

In a letter to David’s MP, the DWP stated they were “aware Mr Clapson was insulin dependent”.  

With no money for his electricity meter, his family claim he would have been unable to chill his insulin in the height of Summer. He also was found to have no food in his stomach when he died.  

In 2014 Ms Thompson started a petition with Change.org which gained over 200,000 signatures which helped to secure a Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry in March 2015, which came up with 26 recommendations.  

However, the Government rejected the Select Committee recommendation that the number of peer reviews into deaths of persons subject to a sanction be made public.   

The Government also rejected Ms Thompson’s calls for an Independent Review into David’s death and the deaths of others in similar circumstances and of an independent body to conduct more reviews into the deaths of those in receipt of ‘working-age’ benefits:  Government response here.  

Merry Varney from the law firm Leigh Day who is representing Ms Thompson in her fight for an inquest into her brother’s death, said:  

“We hope that these submissions will show the Coroner that there is a reason to suspect that David died an unnatural death and that an investigation should be opened with a view to holding a full Inquest into the circumstances of David’s death.

“Inquests and Coronial Investigations play a fundamental role in ensuring preventable or avoidable deaths are identified and that steps are taken to prevent another tragedy.

“The United Nations recently expressed their concern at the absence of due process and access to justice in the UK for those affected by the use of sanctions by the DWP and an Inquest into David’s death would be at least an initial step towards addressing these grave concerns.”

Gill Thompson said: “Although this cannot change things for David, I will continue the campaign to help prevent further deaths and suffering on the vulnerable and sick in our society by the use of unjust sanctions.

“I would like to thank everyone for their overwhelming support throughout this campaign, and wonderful and heartfelt words of comfort, without this support we could not hope to make these changes.”

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