'Bedroom tax' lorry death was suicide, coroner rules
- 12 August 2014
- From the section Birmingham & Black Country
A woman who walked in front of a lorry on a motorway after leaving a note blaming government benefit changes took her own life, a coroner has ruled.
Stephanie Bottrill, 53, from Solihull, died in May last year after climbing over a safety barrier on to the M6.
Her family said she was worried about losing £20 a week through so-called "bedroom tax" housing benefit changes.
Her brother said she had tried to kill herself before and criticised her stance over the benefit changes.
Mrs Bottrill lived alone in a three-bedroom house and would have received less in housing benefit by being subject to what the government calls the removal of a "spare room subsidy", branded the "bedroom tax" by critics.
In her suicide letter, Mrs Bottrill told her family she could no longer cope.
"It's my life, the only people to blame are the government," she wrote, before walking to the motorway, a short distance from her home in Meriden Drive, Kingshurst.
A post-mortem examination found she died as a result of multiple injuries.
A police investigation concluded there was nothing the lorry driver could have done to avoid Mrs Bottrill.
The coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, Zafar Siddique, said: "Given the evidence of notes left of her intention, I am satisfied she intended to take her own life."
Mrs Bottrill, a grandmother and former postal worker, had agreed to see her GP the day before her death after her concerned daughter-in-law telephoned to make the appointment.
Mr Siddique, summing up the evidence of Dr Bindu Nair, said Mrs Bottrill had been "clear-headed" and given a frank account of a history of anxiety.
"She was still coming to terms about whether to move or have to pay extra to stay in her current property," said Dr Nair's report.
It added that Ms Bottrill was "happy to move but it was the way in which she was forced to make a decision" which had caused her "considerable anxiety and stress".
"She felt she wasn't given the time to make her decision".
Mrs Bottrill's brother, Kevin Owens, said he could not be sure his sister's actions were entirely due to her housing situation.
"Much has been written about bedroom tax pushing her - it wasn't, because prior to that she'd attempted suicide before and that hadn't been reported before.
"It might have been the catalyst to push her but was it just an excuse she was looking for?"
Mr Owens told reporters at the inquest that his sister "wasn't prepared to give somebody else a chance" of a larger home.
"It's terrible that people in this country are cramped into one and two-bedroom flats with children while other people sit on three-bedroom houses," he said.
Solihull Council had offered Mrs Bottrill another property to live in about six miles away and she was considering whether to move there at the time of her death.
A council spokesman said there was "never a requirement for Ms Bottrill to move".
Houses were not imposed on people, rather householders selected from a list of available properties and made bids on their choices and in Ms Bottrill's case she had been successful with two properties, they said.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "This is a tragic case. Our sympathies are with her family.
"There are often complex reasons as to why people may commit suicide and we would not comment further."
Samaritans told BBC News "although a catalyst may appear to be obvious, suicide is seldom the result of a single factor or event and is likely to have several interrelated causes".