Hartlepool man found dead on beach after sickness benefits stopped

County Durham Coroner's Court
County Durham Coroner's Court

A middle-aged Hartlepool man died after going into the sea off Horden shortly after being told his sickness benefits were being withdrawn.

But County Durham and Darlington assistant coroner Crispin Oliver said it was impossible to say whether David Metcalf had meant to enter the water.

This is an inquest that must record an open conclusion and that is what it will do.

Assistant coroner Crispin Oliver

The 54-year-old was found on the beach at Grants Houses on Tuesday, January 3, four days after being visited by police and a mental health triage practitioner at his home in Arch Court, Hartlepool.

An inquest at Crook coroner’s court heard a post-mortem showed signs of drowning and hypothermia.

Mr Oliver said Mr Metcalf had been ‘a somewhat solitary individual,’ with no family and apparently just one acquaintance, a local garage owner who had alerted police after Mr Metcalf gave him his car keys and bank documents, saying he would not need them any more.

He had been examined by mental health practitioner Leighann Fishpool, whose report said: “David was signed off sick for nine years due to anxiety, stress and panic attacks.

“He has recently been deemed fit for work and told he would need to go to the JobCentre to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance.

“He said he was frustrated and upset and thought ‘What’s the point?’

“He feels he needs someone to go with him to the JobCentre so they can sort this out for him.

“He feels frustrated at having his benefits stopped and finds it difficult to communicate with staff at the JobCentre.”

But he had denied any intention to harm himself and displayed no signs of major mental illness.

Det Sgt Gary G Davison said Mr Metcalf had been dressed as though out for a walk, with a jumper, coat and gloves on.

He was not wearing socks or underwear, but DS Davison told the hearing he did not think that was necessarily unusual for someone like Mr Metcalf.

Mr Oliver said it was clear Mr Metcalf had died as a result of immersion in water, but it was not clear whether he came to be in the sea deliberately or by accident.

“I simply cannot come to the conclusion beyond reasonable doubt that he intended to kill himself and, therefore, the suicide conclusion is not available,” he said.

“Despite the best efforts of the police, there is no conclusive evidence as to how Mr Metcalf came to be in the sea.

“Accordingly, and I say this with regret, but this is an inquest that must record an open conclusion and that is what it will do.”

Conclusion: OPEN