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Judicial review and human rights challenge launched against HM Coroner's refusal to open an inquest into the death of David Clapson

The sister of David Clapson has issued a judicial review and human rights claim in the High Court, challenging the refusal by a coroner to hold an inquest into her brother's death

Posted on 15 February 2017

The sister of David Clapson, a 59-year-old ex-soldier who died in 2013 after he was ‘sanctioned’ by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), has issued a judicial review and human rights claim in the High Court, challenging the refusal by the Senior Coroner for Hertfordshire to hold an inquest into her brother’s death.
Mr Clapson, an insulin dependent Diabetic, was found dead in his home on 20 July 2013. His benefits had been stopped by DWP staff who knew that he suffered from diabetes. It appears that at the time of his death David had been unable to pay for electricity as he had been rendered destitute by the sanction. His insulin could not be refrigerated due to the absence of electricity, and he had no food available to feed himself. In effect, Mr. Clapson starved to death and died because he could not feed himself or refrigerate his insulin without access to State benefits.
In October last year law firm Leigh Day, who are representing David’s sister, Gill Thompson, provided submissions to the Hertfordshire Coroner arguing that an inquest should be opened into the death of her brother.
They argued that Mr Clapson 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 and that the sanction was a contributing or causative factor in his death.
Leigh Day also argued on behalf of Ms Thompson that there was a strong public interest in conducting a fresh investigation into the death of Mr Clapson to ensure that the full circumstances are publicly investigated, that relevant systems are scrutinised and that Article 2, the right to life, demanded such an investigation.
Despite these submissions the Coroner declined to open an inquest. Further pre-action correspondence was sent, supported by reports by Diabetes UK and a leading Diabetes Consultant. Both reports confirmed that insulin-dependent Diabetes is a chronic illness and that food and insulin refrigeration are of crucial importance in order to manage the condition. Both reports expressed concern at the current DWP guidance on Diabetes, which states that “JSA claimants are likely to have well controlled diabetes”.
The Coroner maintained his refusal to open an inquest and, without mention of the medical reports provided, concluded that Mr Clapson’s death was not unnatural. The effect of the Coroner’s refusal is that no official investigation will be conducted into how it was that a vulnerable diabetic, known to the DWP and dependent on State benefits to live, came to die in his home from starvation, alone and without the means to feed himself or refrigerate his insulin in 21st century Britain.
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 eight years for other companies he then became a carer for his sick mother.  
According to his sister, David was a proud man. He suffered from 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 after he failed to attend two appointments, leaving him unable to afford to top up his electricity key and unable to afford food.
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 and 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 refused to create an independent body to conduct more reviews into the deaths of those in receipt of ‘working-age’ benefits. The Government response can be found here.  
Ms Thompson is crowdfunding her legal challenge and needs to raise a further £7,000 to reach her target on CrowdJustice.
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:  
“A DWP-imposed benefit sanction left David with no income, unable to afford food or electricity, circumstances which diabetes experts agree could easily render his condition fatal.
“The law requires a Coroner to hold an inquest into certain deaths and we believe the circumstances of David’s death clearly trigger this duty.
“Our client, who has campaigned since her brother’s death, is asking the High Court to quash the Coroner’s refusal so that a full, fair and fearless inquest can take place, and so that issues of significant wider public importance concerning benefit sanctions and vulnerable people are properly considered.”
Gill Thompson said:

“The thing that continues to haunt me is that the DWP knew David was an insulin dependent diabetic yet they stated: ‘…we followed procedures and no errors were made….’
“Diabetes is a serious condition, which in cases such as David’s requires both food and insulin to stay healthy. I feel that the sanction resulting in my brother being left destitute and having no money to chill his insulin or to buy food, ultimately, led to his untimely death.
“Going to Court is an option of last resort but I feel compelled to use every effort to ensure that the impact of the DWP imposed benefit sanction on David's death is properly and independently investigated. I believe the DWP continue to impose sanctions on diabetic benefit claimants and not only for my brother's sake, but also for others at risk, I hope the High Court grants me permission to challenge the Coroner's decision.”