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Sister of ex-soldier who died following benefit sanction vows to fight decision not to hold inquest

Sister of an ex-soldier who died after a benefits sanctions has set up a Crowdjustice page to take her fight for an inquest to the High Court

Posted on 15 November 2016

The sister of an ex-soldier who died in 2013 after being left ‘destitute’ following benefit sanctions imposed by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) have vowed to challenge the decision of the Coroner not to hold an inquest into his death.

David Clapson, a Type 1 diabetic, died in 2013 aged 59. His sister Gill Thompson claims that following the sanction by the DWP he was left without money for his electricity meter, unable to chill his insulin in the height of Summer, unable to buy sufficient food and that these factors all contributed to his death from fatal diabetic ketoacidosis.

An autopsy found he had no food in his stomach when he died. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on 2 November 2016 raised the death of Mr Clapson in Prime Minister’s Questions.

Whilst addressing the issue of benefits sanctions to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, Mr Corbyn said: “But I will tell the Prime Minister what is monstrously unfair: ex-servicemen like David Clapson dying without food in his home due to the Government’s sanctions regime. It is time that we ended this institutionalised barbarity against often very vulnerable people.”

Last month the Hertfordshire Coroner received submissions from law firm Leigh Day arguing that a fresh investigation should be opened into Mr Clapson’s death 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.

However, in a letter received on 4 November 2016 the Senior Coroner for Hertfordshire, Geoffrey Sullivan, explained that he does not propose a fresh investigation into the death of Mr Clapson.

In the letter Mr Sullivan states: “…the evidence does not support either a direct or contributory causal link between the imposition of the benefit sanction and Mr Clapson’s death. In addition… there is no evidence as to whether the benefit sanction was imposed properly or not.”

Lawyers from Leigh Day are now considering a judicial review of the Coroner’s decision not to hold an inquest. Merry Varney from the law firm Leigh Day, who is representing Ms Thompson, said:

“We believe there is huge public interest in an investigation into the role played by the imposition of a benefit sanction in Mr. Clapson’s death.

“We are grossly concerned by the fact David, despite his vulnerability arising from having Type 1 diabetes, was not entitled to an immediate hardship payment while under sanction and that the DWP guidance on Diabetes does not in our view properly recognise the importance of food and access to chilled insulin for people like David. Despite our client’s best efforts there has been no open and through investigation of this matter at all.

“There is an urgent need to assess 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. The UN have expressed concerns and we will now ask the High Court to consider our client’s request.”

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, he 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. David also suffered Type 1 Diabetes and relied on regular insulin shots to survive.

He 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 an appointment.

Ms Thompson has now set up a page on Crowdjustice webpage, the UK’s crowd funding platform for legal costs, to help raise the money needed to take the legal action to the High Court to seek an inquest into her brother’s death.

A previous crowd sourcing page received 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.

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.”