Trevor Drakard was panic-stricken at the thought he would have to find a job when he could suffer a severe attack at any time
Tragic: Trevor Drakard
A man with permanent brain damage and ‘uncontrolled’ epilepsy hanged himself after being ordered to take part in ‘work related activity’ or risk his benefits being cut.
Trevor Drakard was panic-stricken at the thought he would have to find a job when he could suffer a severe attack at any time.
The shy 50-year-old suffered from meningitis at five months old which left him brain damaged, causing severe epilepsy first seen when he was just six.
He suffered countless attacks throughout his life, never went 10 days without a fit and would fall ‘like a tree’ to the ground.
Despite heavy medication, he was regularly taken to hospital and had suffered a broken nose, cheekbone, jaw, lost his front teeth and split his head open after hitting pavement during attacks.
Even disabled employer Remploy – where he worked for six years – deemed his condition so severe he had to leave.
Yet ConDem reforms meant he received a letter saying his Incapacity Benefit was being replaced with £112.05-a-week ‘Employment and Support Allowance’.
It stated he had to attend a ‘Work Related Activity Group”, or his benefits could be hit.
Shortly before his suicide, he wrote a heart-rending note begging DWP chiefs not to change his status.
He told them: “I have never been able to work due to my epilepsy. I had a job at Remploy but I lost my job because they could not longer cope with my attacks.”
Tragedy: Trevor’s home
But a June 23 standard Benefits Agency letter informed him his appeal had been rejected.
His family struggled to gain detailed medical records of his multiple hospital visits down the years to make a second appeal.
He was given a month to get the information, and, as the deadline approached, became more and more worried.
On July 19, anxious parents Doreen, 80, and Tom, 86, went to his home in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear – and made the horrific discovery of his body hanging in his bedroom.
They say there is ‘no doubt whatsoever’ the stress of the benefits changes caused his suicide.
Tom, a retired marine engineer, said: “Trevor had meningitis as a baby, and it was caused by the scar on his brain. He had his first epileptic attack when he was six.
“He did not know when a fit would come, it was completely random. He would have two or three in a short space of time, he did not go ten days without one.
“Trevor would get so anxious about little things, that was a feature of this condition – we would tell him not to worry, but he just could not help it.”
His parents had been helping with the second appeal to the DWS on the eve of his suicide.
“They asked for his full history but he had countless attacks in his life time, it was despicable really,” said Doreen, who ran a wool shop as well as bringing up Trevor and siblings Michael, 51, and Pam, 48.
“He often hit the pavement when he fell, there must have been hundreds of occasions when he ended up in hospital.
“On the day he died, we went around for him to sign the appeal letter we had been working on the day before.
“The door was open, the curtains were closed, so I thought he must have been poorly.”
Fighting back tears, her husband added: “He was here on the Friday, and we went around the next morning and we found him like that…
“It was such a shock, what shocked us more than anything the way he did it. He had panicked because of the benefit changes.
“There is no doubt that is why he did it. You cannot bring him back.”
The Drakards agreed to speak out to raises awareness of benefit cuts, and how devastating their impact can be on the vulnerable in society.
Trevor worked at Remploy until he was 30, but his condition was deemed so severe he left after six years. He had saved up enough to buy his own home, and with the help of around £100-a-week in Incapacity Benefits, lived an independent life.
The first letter about the change in his benefits arrived in March this year. Due to his condition, Trevor was ‘beside himself’ with worry over it.
Doreen explained: “We went to Citizens Advice Bureau, we explained we could never get his medical records together in a time needed to appeal.
“He was on the bare minimum really, but the benefits agency said they intended to change it because he needed to look for work.
“He had to attend a job interview, and this work group, or his money could be stopped.
“Trevor did not know from day to day how he was going to be, and if he would take a fit, so this just stressed him even more.
“He was worried about taking a job in case he had attacks. He lost teeth, broke his jaw, cheekbone, he was always in accident and emergency with his injuries.
“We tried to explain, his GP had just retired and so had his consultant in Sunderland, it made it hard to get his history.”
His family helped make his home ‘safe’, with a specially made bed, cushions scattered to break any falls, and child-safe furniture.
“He had been alone for 19 years, he never had a girlfriend but he had helped us, did gardening, wood work, loved bird watching, photography and walking,” added Tom, a grandfather-of-five.
“He wrote his own letter of appeal – but they told him they would not change their minds.”
Trevor’s brother Michael, of Leeds, added: “The system is not appropriate for someone like Trevor, who really needs help.
“It was never about the money. He did not drink, smoke, he had the most frugal existence – he probably had about ten shandies a year.
“He may have ended up on about the same in benefits. But he could not cope with the stress of thinking he had to make himself available for work.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that is what caused his death.”
Olive Marrs, 65, a retired social worker, said she and Trevor’s other neighbours were ‘disgusted’ at how he had been treated.
She added: “He was a lovely man. He was quite obviously vulnerable, so depressed about his benefits.”
Coroner’s officer Neville Dixon told the inquest into Trevor’s death earlier this month that he had been warned his benefits could be stopped.
He added: “He had been feeling very down, due to the stress.”
Senior Sunderland coroner Derek Winter was satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that Mr Drakard had been responsible for his own death.
The city’s Labour MP Julie Elliot said: “Sadly, the removal of benefits to genuinely sick people is becoming all too common, having a devastating impact on people’s lives and in this case a tragic outcome.
“The system is not fit for purpose. The Government needs to act now to stop anymore tragedies occurring and causing unnecessary hardship to people.”
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