Coal miner took his own life ‘after Government hounded him over benefits claim’


Jimmy Ballentine, 60, was interviewed four times over four months and took a fatal overdose the day his twin grandsons celebrated fourth birthday Tragic Jimmy Ballentine took his own life after he was made to fear prosecution by the DWP The family of a former coal miner say he taken his own life after being “hounded” by Government officials over a benefits claim.

Jimmy Ballentine, 60, started work in the mines aged 15 but fell ill with depression after losing his job during the Thatcher strikes.

The dad-of-two was investigated by DWP fraud officers after he accidentally over-claimed a small amount of benefits.

Jimmy had £7,000 emergency savings, which unknowingly placed him slightly above the £6,000 means-tested limit.

Sources say the DWP now recognise his error was a “genuine mistake” and there was no intention to prosecute.

But Jimmy was terrified of being hauled into court and took a fatal overdose the day his twin grandsons celebrated their fourth birthday.

His heartbreaking suicide note – in which he plans his own funeral – read:

“Sorry son you will have to bury me.

“Forgive me leaving you with my debt, can not take any more, love both of you.”

Jimmy addressed son Dale in his suicide note (Photo: Family Collect)

Proud Jimmy, who wanted to repay the money out of his savings, repeatedly asked the DWP how much he owed but received no answer.

Son Dale, 34, told the Mirror: “They were hounding my dad and he believed that he was in big trouble.

“He was terrified and felt like the worst type of criminal – it was never made clear he wasn’t going to be prosecuted.

Dale says his dad was made to feel like he had ‘committed some huge fraud’ (Photo: Daily Mirror)

“They made him feel like he had committed some huge fraud, when actually what happened was a complete accident.

“He was happy to pay back the difference but they wouldn’t tell him how much he had over-claimed.

“If they had given him the figure I’m 100 percent certain he would still be here right now.

“But the system doesn’t allow for that, so he’s dead.”

Jimmy’s heartbreaking suicide note (Photo: Daily Mirror)

Jimmy grew up in County Durham and followed his father into the mines aged just 15.

He worked in the coalmining industry for two decades but his career was cut short when Maggie Thatcher closed many pits.

After losing his job, the amateur bodybuilder struggled for many years with depression, anxiety and mild schizophrenia.

Jimmy’s mental health problems led to the breakdown of his marriage to wife Hazel Peacock, 59.

He started receiving Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and housing benefit.

Jimmy was told in an interview that he had been illegally claiming benefits for 10 years (Photo: Daily Mirror)

Last November Jimmy, who lived near Consett, Co Durham, was interviewed by a fraud officer.

They told him that for 10 years he had been illegally claiming benefits because he had life savings of £7,000.

Jimmy saved the money, which came from the sale of his house, for emergencies and had no idea he had breached the rules.

But the DWP carried out at least four interviews over the next four months.

Dale said: “In his head he thought he owed tens of thousands of pounds and he was worried he would put his family into debt.

“We knew it was much less than that and told him so. All he wanted to know was how much he owed.”

It is believed Jimmy would have been asked to repay just a few thousand pounds back – something he was happy to do.

But his anxiety about the investigation became so severe that he killed himself on February 12 this year.

His daughter Clare Ballentine, 32, raised the alarm after he failed to wish her twin boys happy birthday.

His suicide note outlined plans for his own funeral and revealed his worries over money.

Dale, of Sydenham, South London, said: “Nobody seems to have taken his illness into consideration at any point during the investigation.

“The Government is trying to claw back as much money as possible without trying to look into the person behind the number.”

Jimmy’s inquest is due to be held tomorrow in Crook, County Durham.

Dale supports the mental health charity Mind and is urging anyone worried about benefits to seek support.

Dale says anyone who is worried about benefits should seek help (Photo: Daily Mirror)

Spokesman Paul Spencer said: “Jimmy Ballentine’s death was a tragedy.

“We’ve long been campaigning for changes to the benefits system so that it better supports people with mental health problems.

“Suicides are not inevitable, they can be prevented. If you’re feeling suicidal, it’s really important to try to talk to someone.

Information is available through Mind’s website and the charity’s confidential support line, Mind Infoline 0300 123 3393.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Ballentine’s family.

“We were aware of Mr Ballentine’s mental health issues, and our staff were dealing with the situation as sensitively as possible, while also supporting him and his family to access the right benefit support.”


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