Dove v HM Assistant Coroner for Teesside and Hartlepool & Anor [2023] EWCA Civ 289 (17 March 2023)

Dove v HM Assistant Coroner for Teesside and Hartlepool & Anor [2023] EWCA Civ 289 (17 March 2023)

Jodey Whiting, who died on 21 February 2017 as the result of an overdose of prescription medicine. Jodey was 42 years old when she died. On 24 May 2017, the Assistant Coroner for Teesside and Hartlepool (the First Respondent to this appeal and referred to in this judgment as the “Coroner”) held an inquest into her death which recorded her death as suicide. [1]

…no criticism of the way the first inquest was conducted. She advances two grounds of appeal, both of them contingent on the fresh evidence in this case, received since that first inquest took place. The grounds of appeal are:

i) First, that the Divisional Court was wrong to conclude that a fresh Jamieson inquest was not necessary or desirable in light of the fresh evidence relating to the abrupt cessation of Jodey’s benefits by the Department of Work and Pensions (the “Department”) and the likely effect of that on Jodey’s mental health; and

ii) Secondly and alternatively, that the Divisional Court was wrong to conclude that a fresh Middleton inquest was not necessary or desirable in the light of arguable breaches of the Article 2 operational duty owed to Jodey by the Department. [3]

Dr Turner provides expert evidence about the way in which the abrupt cessation of benefits is likely to have affected Jodey’s state of mind. That seems to me to be an issue well within the scope of a Jamieson inquest. It goes to the issue of intention, which is one of the elements which has to be established at the inquest before a conclusion of suicide is entered [65]

…allow this appeal on ground 1 only and direct a fresh Jamieson inquest to be conducted by a different coroner to consider how Jodey came by her death. I would dismiss this appeal on ground 2. [92]

The relevant new evidence is that of Dr Turner. That evidence is that Jodey was suffering an underlying mental health condition, namely borderline personality disorder, and chronic pain from physical conditions. She had other difficulties in her life at that stage. Dr Turner’s evidence is 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 pain, and her emotional instability resulting from her underlying mental health condition. Jodey’s vulnerabilities would in his opinion have been substantially affected by the withdrawal of benefits with a likely deterioration in her mental state. [98]

…it is desirable for there to be a new inquest given this fresh evidence. Although not necessary to have a fresh inquest, it is desirable because it is appropriate for an opportunity to be given for a coroner to consider whether or not he or she accepts the evidence of Dr Turner and, if so, whether he or she considers that it is appropriate to make findings of fact about Jodey’s mental state, and any link or connection between the withdrawal of the welfare benefits and her mental state in the period leading up to Jodey’s death. Those will be matters for the coroner to consider at a fresh inquest. [99]