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Court of Appeal grants second inquest into death of Jodey Whiting

The Court of Appeal has ruled today that a second inquest should be held into the death of Jodey Whiting.

Posted on 17 March 2023

Jodey’s mother, Joy Dove, has been fighting for five years to have a second inquest into Jodey’s death to examine the role of the DWP.

The Court ruled that it is desirable in the interests of justice for a new inquest to be held to investigate how Jodey came by her death in light of new evidence Joy obtained after the first inquest into Jodey’s death.

The Court found that it was not only desirable for Joy and her family to have an inquest into Jodey’s death at which they could invite a Coroner to make findings about the role of the DWP’s failings in Jodey’s death, but also that the public at large has a “legitimate interest” in this investigation being carried out.

On the specific facts of the case, the Court of Appeal rejected the argument that the DWP owed Jodey a legal obligation to protect her life (within the meaning of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights) under the Human Rights Act.

Jodey took her own life aged 42 on 21 February 2017. She had multiple physical and mental illnesses which left her housebound and entirely reliant on welfare benefits. She died a fortnight after her benefits were terminated because she did not attend a Work Capability Assessment. At the time of the assessment, Jodey was housebound with pneumonia, had been in hospital, and had found out that she had a cyst on the brain.

Since Jodey’s death, her mother, Joy Dove, has fought tirelessly for a second inquest into her death so that the role of the DWP can be examined. The first inquest into Jodey’s death lasted only 37 minutes and the coroner refused to consider the role of the DWP.

In the years since the first inquest, new evidence has come to light, including an investigation into the handling of Jodey’s benefits by the DWP and a report from an independent consultant psychiatrist, who concluded that it is likely Jodey’s mental state would have been substantially affected by the DWP’s failings.

The Court of Appeal judgment notes that it is accepted by the DWP that its failings in Jodey’s case “were extensive, both before and after it stopped her benefits with effect from 7 February 2017.” It went on to explain that the Court’s ruling that the DWP did not owe Jodey a legal obligation under Article 2 is “not to ignore the multiple failings on the part fo the Department. The Department accepts that individuals within the Department failed to follow the relevant systems and policies at crucial points.”

The judgment explains that the new evidence which was crucial to the decision to order a new inquest was Dr Turner’s evidence that “Jodey would have experienced shock and distress at the withdrawal of her welfare benefits and that the effect would have been heightened by her current difficulties, her isolation and her pain”. It explains that a new inquest is desirable because it is appropriate for a coroner consider, based on Dr Turner’s evidence, whether it is appropriate to record “any link or connection between the withdrawal of the welfare benefits and her mental state in the period leading up to Jodey’s death”.

It is hoped that a date for the new inquest will be set soon and that the DWP will be made an Interested Person in the inquest. The family hope that the inquest will consider the failings of the DWP, as identified by the independent investigation, and the effects of these failings on Jodey’s mental state, including whether or not the failings more than minimally contributed to Jodey’s death.

Joy Dove said:

“I am so pleased and grateful to the Court of Appeal and I would like to thank the Court of Appeal judges that considered Jodey’s case. We buried Jodey just over six years ago and finally my family and I have the chance of getting justice for Jodey.

“Jodey is never going to be forgotten and her death was not in vain, she’s helping others and her legacy will live on. We have always believed that the DWP wrongly stopping Jodey’s benefits caused her death and the High Court’s refusal caused such disappointment not just for me and my family, but others too who have lost loved ones after DWP mistakes and who continue to fight for accountability from the DWP. This is a victory not just for us but for all those families and others still on the receiving end of awful treatment by the DWP. I hope the DWP learn from their tragic failings.”

Merry Varney, partner at Leigh Day, added:

“Today's unanimous ruling from the court of appeal means finally Joy and her family have the opportunity for the role of shocking failings by the DWP in the death of much loved Jodey to be publicly investigated, and the Court of Appeal has rightly underlined the importance of this not just to Jodey’s family, but to the wider public.

“Inquests play a vital role in exposing unsafe practices and risks to future lives, and today's Judgement, rejecting arguments made by the Coroner and overturning the decision of the High Court, makes it abundantly clear that Coroners can and indeed sometimes should be investigating more than the immediate cause of death regardless of whether the right to life is engaged.”

Joy is represented by Jeremy Hyam KC of 1 Crown Office Row and Jesse Nicholls of Matrix Chambers and her case is funded by legal aid.

Timeline

  • In late 2016 the DWP began to reassess Jodey’s entitlement to Employment Support Allowance (ESA). Jodey requested a home visit as she rarely left the house due to her health and she made clear in her reply that she had “suicidal thoughts a lot of the time and could not cope with work or looking for work”.
  • Despite this, the DWP decided that Jodey should attend a work capability assessment in January which Jodey did not attend and on 6 February 2017 the DWP decide to stop the fortnightly ESA payments which Jodey relied on from 17 February.
  • Jodey with the help of her family wrote to the DWP explaining the severity of her health conditions and asking them to reconsider their decision to terminate her ESA, but this did not happen until after her death.
  • Jodey also then received letters to inform her that her housing benefit and council tax benefit would be stopped because they were linked to her ESA.
  • Just three days after her last ESA payment, on the 21 February, Jodey took her own life.
  • On 24 May 2017 an inquest was held into Jodey’s death at Teesside Coroner’s Court.
  • Jodey’s family initially wrote to the Attourney General in January 2020 to seek his permission to apply to the High Court for a second inquest.
  • This was granted and the application to the High Court was submitted in December 2020.
  • In June 2021 the DWP was given permission to have a limited role in making submissions to the court about the second inquest application.
  • In September 2021 the High Court ruled that that the new evidence that had come to light since the first inquest did not require a fresh inquest to be held in the interests of justice.
  • Joy sought permission to appeal that decision on 1 Oct 2021 but this was refused on 11 October 2021
  • An application to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal was submitted on 2 November 2021 and permission was granted on 5 October 2022
  • On January 31 and February 1 2023 the Court of Appeal heard Joy’s arguments for the appeal.
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Merry Varney
Court of Protection Human rights Inquests Judicial review

Merry Varney

Merry is a partner in the human rights department and head of the Leigh Day inquest group

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Dan Webster (1)
Court of Protection Discrimination Human rights Inquests Judicial review Public law

Dan Webster

Dan is an associate solicitor in the human rights department

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Court of Appeal hearing in mother’s fight for second inquest into death of Jodey Whiting

The mother of Jodey Whiting will have a Court of Appeal hearing on Tuesday 31 January and Wednesday 1 February 2023 in her fight for a second inquest into her daughter’s death.