A Lower Hutt woman who took her own life in 2011 had found out the day before that she was being prosecuted for benefit fraud.

Wendy Shoebridge was found dead at a Kings Cres property on April 3, 2011, said a report into her death by coroner Anna Tutton.

The day earlier she opened a letter from the Ministry of Social Development, saying she had been overpaid $22,403.43 and was to be prosecuted over it.

The ministry had been investigating a report she had been receiving a sickness benefit as a single person while living in a "marriage-type" relationship.


A toxicology test after her death revealed Shoebridge's alcohol level was more than twice the legal driving limit when she died. Her GP reported she had ongoing problems with depression, anxiety and alcoholism.

Shoebridge's partner Dean Sinclair told the coroner she was upset the night before her death because he had told her a mutual friend had been diagnosed with cancer.

He said she opened the letter from MSD and got "quite a shock", but believed she was more upset about the friend with cancer.

He said they had decided they would fight the charges.

Shoebridge had received a range of benefits and allowances from MSD since 1992.

An MSD staff member investigating her case interviewed her and Sinclair in March 2011, and was told by Shoebridge's mother about her past suicide attempts.

The staff member told the coroner he went to a manager to pass on his concerns about Shoebridge's suicidal history, but the manager said "where there is evidence, our policy is to prosecute".

The manager told the coroner if she'd known about Shoebridge's risk of suicide it would have immediately changed her assessment of the situation.

After hearing from MSD employees, Tutton said she accepted the investigator told his manager he did not want to prosecute Shoebridge, and mentioned issues around her health. However, she did not believe he told the manager about the risk of suicide or past suicide attempts.

The coroner made a number of recommendations, including that MSD review existing staff resources and instruct staff of the steps to be considered and followed when there is an investigation around a client with an identified history of suicide attempts or suicidality.

She also said MSD should prioritise investigating and introducing a risk identification tool so risks can be recorded in a way that is easily accessible and visible to anyone involved with the file.

Tutton ruled Shoebridge's death to be self-inflicted.

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