Man who starved to death when benefits were cut ‘pulled out his own teeth’
The family of a man who starved to death after his benefits were cut believe he was in such ‘extreme mental distress’ that he pulled out some of his own teeth. Errol Graham’s relatives have launched legal action against the Government over its policy for terminating handouts.
Mr Graham was 57 when he died in 2018, eight months after he stopped receiving employment support allowance and housing benefit. His family say he had ‘cut himself off from the world’, living in a darkened flat with the curtain closed, a single light bulb, no gas and electricity and little food.
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He weighed just four-and-a-half stone when he was found there by bailiffs who had turned up to evict him. In a witness statement given as part of the legal action, Alison Turner, the partner of Mr Graham’s son, described going to Nottingham to collect his belongings from the flat after his death.
She said: ‘As we started clearing up on an old glass coffee table I found a shoebox lid where there was a pair of heavy-duty pliers and a couple of back molar teeth with huge roots. ‘I looked at it and I realised that Errol must have pulled out his own teeth. ‘When I found those teeth I felt ill, it made me feel sick.
I couldn’t begin to imagine how much pain Errol must have been in to resort to ripping his molar teeth out. ‘To me this was an indicator of how severe his mental health issues were at the time. He cannot have been in the right frame of mind.’ She added: ‘It was clear from the flat that Errol had cut himself off from the world.
‘The curtains were closed and there was only one lightbulb in the hallway, there were no other lightbulbs. ‘The gas and electric weren’t running because they were on pay-as-you-go meters and there was no credit, in fact they were in debt. ‘There were only a couple of tins of tuna in the kitchen and the fridge had gone. A couple of the kitchen doors were hanging off. He had cut off all the cables from the speakers and they were hanging round the doorframe.’
They also found an unsent letter from Mr Graham to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). In it, described how on ‘bad days’ he finds it hard to leave the house, and that he sometimes ‘dreads’ the mail coming as he cannot afford to pay bills. Mr Graham urged the intended recipient to ‘please judge me fairly’, adding ‘I am a good person but overshadowed by depression’.
Mr Graham’s family are launching a legal action against the DWP (Picture: PA) On Friday, the family’s legal team issued a claim in the High Court against the DWP. They will argue that the department’s policy on terminating benefits is ‘unlawful’ because it fails to have regard to a benefit claimant’s disability and breaches human rights laws.
They also say the policy is ‘inherently unfair’ as it allows benefits to be terminated without notice to the claimant. Ms Turner said: ‘The harrowing things I saw when I visited Errol’s flat following his death will always be with me. It was clear he was in extreme mental distress and anguish.
‘It is impossible to see how a policy could be lawful which allows benefits to be withdrawn for people in these circumstances, with no consideration or investigation of their mental health, and the risks that termination would pose.’
Tessa Gregory, a solicitor for law firm Leigh Day, which is representing Ms Turner, said: ‘Our client is being forced to pursue legal action because the DWP has so far refused to make any real changes to the safeguarding policies which allowed her loved one, Errol, to fall through the safety net with such devastating consequences.’ A DWP spokesman said: ‘Our sympathies are with Mr Graham’s family. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.’