An English man who starved to death after his public benefits were cut off pulled out his own teeth with pliers, his family believes.
The story of Errol Graham’s death began in June 2018. The 57-year-old grandfather was likely mentally ill, according to his family, and had basically withdrawn from society and holed up in his apartment due to severe social anxiety. Prior to his death, as The Guardian reported in January 2020, he had been receiving public-aid benefits, including welfare money and housing subsidies.
However, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) cut off his benefits after he failed to show up at a mandated hearing to determine his fitness for work. Some time afterwards, police were dispatched to his Nottingham apartment to evict him after his rent hadn’t been paid. Inside, they found him dead, having apparently starved to death.
Specifically, he weighed only 62.83 pounds. His gas and electricity had also been cut off and the only food in his home was two cans of fish that had expired years ago.
“The safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it,” said the coroner, Elizabeth Didcock, at the time.
Now, Graham’s family suggests his death was even more gruesome than originally reported.
As The Guardian reported on Friday, the family claims in a lawsuit against the DWP that Graham likely pulled out his teeth with a pair of pliers at some point during his starvation. Specifically, one of the items found in his home was reportedly a cardboard box lid containing a pair of pliers and two of his back teeth.
“I looked at it and I realized Errol must have pulled out his own teeth out. I couldn’t imagine how much pain Errol must have been in to resort to ripping his molar teeth out. To me this was an indicator of how severe his mental heath issues were at the time,” said his daughter-in-law, Alison Turner.
There were reportedly other signs of his mental decline in his apartment. A TV in his hallway was destroyed, doors were hanging from their hinges, and his beloved collection of reggae CD’s was strewn about.
Whether or not Graham’s starvation exacerbated his known mental illness remains unclear, as of this writing. However, as Washington’s WAMU-FM reports, the brain can undergo changes during acute starvation.
“Starvation is a state of threat,” explained Dr. Nancy Zucker, director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders at Duke University.
People who are starving may act like a “cornered animal,” and may react to any stimulus as a perceived threat.