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REPOST: It isn’t suicide, it’s murder: Part 2 – Too close to home: Langford man hounded to death over council tax dispute June 3, 2013

Posted by Phil Groom in Death, Mental Health.
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I’M BRINGING THIS POSToriginally published 18th Feb 2012 — back to the top because Peter’s tragic story has now made the national news as the inquest into his death is at last underway.  Please spare a thought and a prayer for his friends and family as the inquest and news coverage forces them to revisit their grief.

Here are some of the reports:


Biggleswade Chronicle, 17/2/2012: Eviction fear drove engineer to suicide

Biggleswade Chronicle, 17/2/2012: Eviction fear drove engineer to suicide

THIS IS THE STORY that ran on the front cover of our local paper, The Biggleswade Chronicle, yesterday, and it’s a story that’s as tragic as it gets: in short, Peter Williams, who was clinically depressed and lived here in Langford, didn’t pay his council tax for several years around the turn of the millennium, was made bankrupt and eventually, faced with the threat of eviction from his home, killed himself on the railway at Biggleswade last week.

I’ll let one of his friends take up the story, as published in the Chronicle:

His friend, Richard Harris, who assisted Peter in his legal battles, said: “His council pursued him relentlessly and aggressively over a period of some 16 years without helping him. It culminated in them bankrupting him over a £1,350 debt in 2006, seeking to evict him from his home, which was worth in excess of £200,000, that he owned outright.”

The report goes on to quote a Central Beds Council spokesman explaining that the unpaid £1,350 represented legal costs incurred by the council and its solicitors in pursuing Mr Williams — but, if you’ll forgive me colloquialising, “it ain’t our fault, guv, honest” because the debt had been handed over to Grant Thornton, acting as bankruptcy trustees, and apparently they were the ones behind the eviction proceedings as part of the debt recovery process.

The council, on the other hand, were right there supporting Mr Williams:

[The spokesman] added that the council’s emergency duty team was in touch with Peter earlier this month and referred him for an urgent mental health assessment.

Last year the Local Government Ombudsman investigated the council’s relationship with Peter and said there were no grounds on which to criticise the council.

So where does that leave us? A man with known mental health problems, hounded to death over a council tax dispute, and a blameless council. Maybe I’m missing something here: I never knew Peter, even though he lived in the same village as me, and unlike the Local Government Ombudsman, I’m not privy to the ins and outs of Peter’s story and have only the Chronicle report to go on; but assuming the accuracy of that report, I have a couple of simple questions for Central Beds Council:

  1. Who let the dogs out?
  2. Since you knew about Peter’s mental health problems, why didn’t you call them off?

Seems to me that transferring a debt to a third party, then denying all responsibility when that third party’s pursuit of that debt results in a tragedy such as this, simply doesn’t wash, any more than Pontius Pilate washing his hands absolved him of responsibility for the death of Jesus.

No one should be hounded by debt collectors to the point where they can see no way forward beyond taking their own life; and when a person has a known record of mental health difficulties, even more caution is called for.

Which begs the question: was it suicide, or murder?

A shortened version of this post has been sent as a letter to the Biggleswade Chronicle.

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It isn’t suicide, it’s murder: Part 2 – Too close to home: Langford man hounded to death over council tax dispute February 18, 2012

Posted by Phil Groom in Death, Mental Health.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
30 comments
Biggleswade Chronicle, 17/2/2012: Eviction fear drove engineer to suicide

Biggleswade Chronicle, 17/2/2012: Eviction fear drove engineer to suicide

THIS IS THE STORY that ran on the front cover of our local paper, The Biggleswade Chronicle, yesterday, and it’s a story that’s as tragic as it gets: in short, Peter Williams, who was clinically depressed and lived here in Langford, didn’t pay his council tax for several years around the turn of the millennium, was made bankrupt and eventually, faced with the threat of eviction from his home, killed himself on the railway at Biggleswade last week.

I’ll let one of his friends take up the story, as published in the Chronicle:

His friend, Richard Harris, who assisted Peter in his legal battles, said: “His council pursued him relentlessly and aggressively over a period of some 16 years without helping him. It culminated in them bankrupting him over a £1,350 debt in 2006, seeking to evict him from his home, which was worth in excess of £200,000, that he owned outright.”

The report goes on to quote a Central Beds Council spokesman explaining that the unpaid £1,350 represented legal costs incurred by the council and its solicitors in pursuing Mr Williams — but, if you’ll forgive me colloquialising, “it ain’t our fault, guv, honest” because the debt had been handed over to Grant Thornton, acting as bankruptcy trustees, and apparently they were the ones behind the eviction proceedings as part of the debt recovery process.

The council, on the other hand, were right there supporting Mr Williams:

[The spokesman] added that the council’s emergency duty team was in touch with Peter earlier this month and referred him for an urgent mental health assessment.

Last year the Local Government Ombudsman investigated the council’s relationship with Peter and said there were no grounds on which to criticise the council.

So where does that leave us? A man with known mental health problems, hounded to death over a council tax dispute, and a blameless council. Maybe I’m missing something here: I never knew Peter, even though he lived in the same village as me, and unlike the Local Government Ombudsman, I’m not privy to the ins and outs of Peter’s story and have only the Chronicle report to go on; but assuming the accuracy of that report, I have a couple of simple questions for Central Beds Council:

  1. Who let the dogs out?
  2. Since you knew about Peter’s mental health problems, why didn’t you call them off?

Seems to me that transferring a debt to a third party, then denying all responsibility when that third party’s pursuit of that debt results in a tragedy such as this, simply doesn’t wash, any more than Pontius Pilate washing his hands absolved him of responsibility for the death of Jesus.

No one should be hounded by debt collectors to the point where they can see no way forward beyond taking their own life; and when a person has a known record of mental health difficulties, even more caution is called for.

Which begs the question: was it suicide, or murder?

A shortened version of this post has been sent as a letter to the Biggleswade Chronicle.

It isn’t suicide: it’s murder June 2, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Current Affairs, Death, Life, Mental Health.
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9 comments

Cross-posted from 5 Quid for Life:

BBC News, 01/06/2011: Campaigners warn over incapacity benefit changes

BBC News, 01/06/2011: Campaigners warn over incapacity benefit changes

THE BBC NEWS have now picked up on the risk of suicide by those suffering from mental illness as they face the trauma of changes to the benefits system. Citing a letter published in the Guardian on May 31st from representatives of Mind, Rethink and a number of other mental health organisations, the BBC report notes that some claimants have already taken their own lives in response to the changes: Campaigners warn over incapacity benefit changes.

In the letter, the campaigners state:

We’ve found that the prospect of IB [incapacity benefit] reassessment is causing huge amounts of distress, and tragically there have already been cases where people have taken their own life following problems with changes to their benefits. We are hugely worried that the benefits system is heading in a direction which will put people with mental health problems under even more pressure and scrutiny, at a time when they are already being hit in other areas such as cuts to services.

The very reason 5 Quid for Life exists, of course, is to be there for such people: we are a mental health safety net. But for that net to be effective, we need funds and people need to know that we are here.

If you have already contributed to the fund, blogged, tweeted or written to help spread the word, thank you. The need for 5 Quid for Life remains as vital as when the 200 People to Save Ali Quant campaign was first launched, however — and what I said then remains true: these deaths are not suicide, they’re

murder, death by a thousand cuts from a knife wielded by the UK Government — the very people whose job it is to take care of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable on our behalf as taxpayers.

I now urge all who share these concerns, the concerns expressed in that letter to the Guardian, to raise your voices once again: write to the BBC, write to the Guardian, write to your own MP. Let them know that the risk is real and ask them to stand with us.

Thank you, and thanks in particular to The Madosphere for drawing attention to this and to us already.

 

Broken Britain, Broken People: Less than One Month Before Heartbreak January 21, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Current Affairs, Death, Life, Mental Health, Watching and Waiting.
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6 comments
One Month Before Heartbreak

One Month Before Heartbreak

BRITAIN IS BROKEN. Broken from top to bottom, by the people at the top trampling over the people at the bottom. Broken by a government so obsessed with its programme of cuts that they’ve become blind to the effect those cuts are having on people’s lives. Stampeding cattle panicked by the wolves of their predecessors’ incompetence, trampling the weak, the disabled and the vulnerable underfoot as they charge headlong towards only God knows where, rewarding failed bankers and ignoring the cries of the poor.

We are a nation betrayed, betrayed by those we pay to serve us. Taxed when we earn, taxed when we spend, taxed when we travel, taxed when we die — and for some that death may well come sooner than it should, death by a thousand cuts from an axe-wielding government which takes and takes … a voracious leech, sucking the very life from its host, the British people…

Purple Noise: The beginning of the end

Purple Noise - The beginning of the end

I suppose I could go on with the purple prose, but instead I’ll give you another pointer to Purple Noise, Ali Quant‘s blog, where Ali describes the living nightmare of battling with mental illness whilst contending with the changes to Britain’s benefits system: The beginning of the end. Perhaps you’ve already read it after my earlier post: then go read it again; if you haven’t read it, prepare to be shaken; and when you’ve been shaken, I hope you’ll be stirred to action. Because Ali is just one amongst many for whom this government’s mandatory reassessment for benefits entitlement is simply too much to bear, one amongst many who have a plan to ‘delete’ themselves, as Ali has expressed it: to commit suicide rather than face the horror of having the minutiae of their lives (re)examined by people whose only interest is in number crunching and balancing the books of a failed administration.

Let’s get this straight: mental illness is real; and it debilitates. It prevents people from working not because they are unwilling to work but, as much as anything, because many employers are unwilling, unable or are simply ill-equipped to deal with the effects of mental illness in their workforce (technically, of course, employers cannot discriminate; but how is a mentally ill person going to fight suspected discrimination?). It’s not the mentally ill person’s fault that they’re unable to work any more than it’s any other ill person’s fault; and contrary to some perceptions, mentally ill people are not malingerers or skivers. Diseases of the mind are every bit as real as diseases of the body, and just as physical illness often affects our ability to think, mental illness often affects the ability to do things, even basic things such as wash yourself, get dressed or respond to a hug. Body and mind, mind and body: the two cannot be separated.

Mentally ill people need their Disability Living Allowance (DLA) every bit as much as people whose illnesses or disabilities are physically plain to see. It’s not something they should have to fight for any more than we’d expect someone in a wheelchair to stand up and fight for their wheelchair. But in just three weeks’ time, that’s exactly what’s going to be expected of them as the government’s consultation about DLA reform comes to an end halfway through February: on 14th February 2011, Valentines Day, to be precise. Courtesy of the UK Government, a day for lovers to celebrate has become a day of despair, a day of fear, darkness and heartbreak for thousands of people. It seems that as a nation we can afford to maintain a nuclear arsenal big enough to ravage the planet but we can’t — or rather, under the current regime, won’t — commit to providing for some of our most vulnerable people.

So what can ordinary people like you and me do? First, it seems to me, we need to make our views known to the government: although the consultation is aimed primarily at disability organisations and disabled people, the DWP have indicated that they would like to hear from anybody who is interested. Then let’s let them know! Let’s let them know that we’re not merely “interested” — we’re outraged! Outraged at the trauma this consultation is causing amongst the Broken of Britain, amongst Britain’s disabled people. Let’s let them know that they cannot, must not, discriminate like this, that we stand in solidarity with our disabled brothers and sisters!

Another example of the trauma: DLA, Danni, and Me – By Vicky Biggs.

Second: if you, like me, don’t trust this government to listen, we need to start setting up our own safety nets for people such as Ali who may drop out of the benefits system. That’s what my ‘200 People’ campaign is about, providing a safety net, in this case specifically for mentally ill people. I say ‘my’ campaign but I am thrilled to say that it is no longer mine: I kicked it off but others have seized the initiative and we’re now well on the way to setting up an official organisation, name to be announced shortly.

Will you stand with us? Will you stand with some of Britain’s most broken people? Will you join me in enabling the mentally ill community, in helping to erase the stigma of mental illness, in what is, for many, quite literally a fight for life?

The time is now: if you’re on facebook, please join our facebook group today. Although the group is still called ‘200 People to Save Ali Quant’ its remit has grown and it should be renamed and given a new description within the next few days: please watch this space for more info.

Thank you.

5 Quid for Life? In Search of a Campaign Name January 16, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Death, Life, Mental Health.
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51 comments

FOLLOWING ON from my 200 People to Save Ali Quant post — to which the responses and enthusiasm have been amazing: thank you all — we’re now looking at a wider brief, at Ali’s request

How about if, instead of making this a let’s help Ali thing, how about a more general let’s help everyone thing? … let me explain my thinking: the reality is, as many of you will know, that I’m not the only one who’s made a deletion plan in case I fail my assessment. Over the past year or so (and obviously more in the past few days) I have heard from different sources of literally hundreds of people who feel the exact same way I do, this is just from people coming and directly telling me “I feel like this” or “I have a friend who says…” there must be thousands more that I haven’t had direct contact with. I’m nothing special, I’m not some kind of extreme case and I haven’t done anything to deserve to be singled out. All I did was write a blog post out of sheer despair, I thought I was so near the end that I had absolutely nothing to lose so I may as well write about it. So why not make some kind of central fund, not necessarily asking for a monthly donation to support people in that way but just a fund that could be used for anyone in my situation? It could be used to help people if they fall over at any stage of claiming benefits, to give people a safety net for example to help out while they’re appealing or if they haven’t been able to attend all the work-focused interviews and get sanctioned.

… and over at the facebook group we’ve been having all sorts of discussions about how to take the idea forward. The first thing we need is a campaign name, a name to grab the public imagination. This post is your invitation to help us choose one: the poll below lists some of the names suggested so far but please feel free to offer other suggestions in the comments. If you’re wildly enthusiastic about a particular name, tell us why in a comment or — even better — post about it on your own blog/facebook/twitter and link to us here to encourage your friends to join in.

The poll will remain open for three days initially, but I’m happy to review that depending on how the conversation goes. Now get voting, please:

  • Special thanks to Kate White, who suggested most of these.

200 People to Save Ali Quant January 13, 2011

Posted by Phil Groom in Appeals, Death, Life.
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comments closed
I have changed my socks

I have changed my socks

YESTERDAY I was feeling frivolous and I changed my socks. Yes, it happened. Unfortunately the yeast was too strong and my bread collapsed, but that’s another story.

Today, however, I am in a more serious frame of mind and I would like you to join me in a campaign to save my friend Ali Quant.

Ali has been a victim of serious domestic abuse and is battling and blogging her way through various mental health issues, all of which you can find out about on her blog, Purple Noise. She’s also a great Scrabble player, which is one of the (admittedly more selfish) reasons why I cannot allow her to go through with her recently announced plan to commit suicide if our inglorious government (yes, David Cameron, that’s you and your crew I’m talking about) pushes her over the edge with its programme of benefit cuts that is demoralising many of the most vulnerable people in our society such as Ali. In fact, it wouldn’t be suicide: it would be murder, death by a thousand cuts from a knife wielded by the UK Government — the very people whose job it is to take care of the poor, the weak, the vulnerable on our behalf as taxpayers.

So I have a plan. It’s simple: I need 200 people who will stand with me in committing themselves to a regular monthly gift of £5 to Ali. That works out at £12,000 per year (more than I earn, as it happens) and I think Ali is worth far more than that. She may be unable to work in the conventional sense of the word, but through her blog (alongside many others: see the Madosphere links in my sidebar)  she is providing an essential service to our society: helping to erase the stigma of mental illness by telling it how it is; and exposing the shabbiness of our government’s policies and the impact those policies are having upon people’s lives.

At the same time as publishing this I’m setting up a facebook group with the same name: 200 People to Save Ali Quant. Even if you’re not in a position to make the regular financial commitment I’m asking for, please consider joining it anyway to show your solidarity with Ali — and please spread the word: between us all, between my friends and yours, we must be able to find 200 people, maybe more, who can make this level of commitment. You may be able to offer more, in which case we may not need 200 people; or less, in which case we may need more. I’m not asking for any money right now; what I’m asking for is commitment to the cause: to make the effort to pull Ali back from the brink onto which the government is pushing her and let her know what we think she’s worth, that we think her life is worth living, that we think she is making an important contribution to our society.

The world needs people like Ali Quant: people who aren’t ashamed to describe what they’ve been through, what they’re going through and who aren’t afraid to shine a light on the government’s failings. If and when those failings reach the point Ali describes and she feels she has to jump, that’s when I’ll come asking for your money: if it helps, think of this as a safety net; but please don’t commit if you’re not prepared for that safety net to be deployed — this is not a game, this is a person’s life.

I realise that in a sense doing this is precisely what Cameron wants us to do with his bleating on about the ‘Big Society’ — “Let’s get people off state benefits into community care”, or something like that. To that I say up yours to Cameron et al: the vast majority of this country didn’t vote for you and we don’t want you or need you: go back to your world of privilege and reward for failed bankers — one day it’s all going to collapse around your head. The ‘Big Society’ was here long before you were and we, the people, will continue to take care of one another with or without your help using our money (and speaking of our money, if there’s anyone reading who’s in a position to advise or help on registering the group as a charity, we should then be able to claim tax back via Gift Aid on taxpayer’s donations; and that, I think, would be a result!).

Will you stand with me? Will you spread the word? Will you help to save Ali from our cut-throat government?

Finally and very importantly: please note that I haven’t consulted Ali about this. When I hit ‘Publish’ it’s going to be as much a surprise for her as it is for everyone else. This is me, Phil Groom, asking, not Ali … because if I know Ali at all, she’d never make this request: she’d die first. But I’m not willing to sit idly by and let that happen.

And if we get more than I’m asking for, there are others out there whose blogging deserves better recognition too, starting with another of my friends, Pandora Serial Insomniac

Where Next?

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