Saturday, January 18, 2020

Disabled man set himself on fire over benefit changes, inquest hears

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An inquest has heard how a disabled man, struggling to cope with mental health problems, committed suicide by setting himself on fire over fears his disability benefits would be cut.

Peter Sherwood, 67, set himself on fire in front of horrified onlookers in Lowestoft town centre on September 4, 2015.

Shoppers rushed to his aid and tried to put out the flames using their jackets, before using a fire extinguisher, the Sudbury Mercury reports.

Mr Sherwood had received a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions, informing him that his Disability Living Allowance was ending and that he needed to reapply for Personal Independence Payments.

Witnesses reported seeing Mr Sherwood spraying writing on the pavement starting with the letter ‘h’ with an aerosol can, before pouring a liquid over his head and setting himself on fire using a cigarette lighter.

Police say the retired builder repeatedly muttered the word “humanity” as he lay on the ground with severe burns.

Peter suffered with a recurrent depressive disorder and psychosis, and had attempted to take his own life on a number of occasions in the past.

He also had a condition called tardive dyskinesia, which would cause involuntary movements to his mouth and is a side-effect of anti-psychotic medications.

Mr Sherwood was taken by air ambulance to a specialist burns unit at Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, but sadly succumb to his injuries four days later.

Peter’s Niece Sarah Wilby told an inquest into her uncle’s death that the change to his benefits would have “contributed” to his poor mental state and angered him.

Sarah told the inquest: “I knew he was feeling a bit low the last time I saw him, which was two weeks before he died. He held me close on the sofa and told me he loved me.

“He was a loving person and had a great sense of humour.

“He was angry at many things in life, but could put a good front on.

“I loved him very much and miss him dreadfully.”

She added: “I personally think quite an underlying cause of his anger was the change in benefits.

“Knowing Peter as we did that would have had a huge impact on him.”

Speaking after the inquest, Sarah added: “He believed that the Government was trying to take money off him.

“He seemed very worried about it because he thought he would lose money. He was always worried about money.

“He may have misread it and not focused on the bit about him being able to reapply.”

Sarah said she was left feeling “shocked” by the way her uncle had taken his own life.

She said: “He seemed to want to make some kind of a statement, but I don’t know what.”

Lucinda Stapleton, a care coordinator, told the inquest that Mr Sherwood’s mental problems had affected his self-confidence, and that he thought people were laughing and staring at him when out in public.

“Peter would try to speak to people in the town, but Peter told me people would be scared of him and pull children away as if he was something to be feared”, she told the inquest.

Mr Sherwood was visited by a mental health team on 4 September, who he told about his intention to take his own life.

An appointment was made for him to see a psychiatrist the following week, but Peter killed himself just hours later.

Coroner Peter Dean recorded a verdict of suicide.

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in the article, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 (UK & ROI) or visit their website.

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