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Penny Oliver: Daughter pays tribute to Whitstable chef who took her own life

By Lydia Chantler-Hicks

A devoted mother-of-three who took her own life "never got over" the tragic death of her teenage son.

Chef Penny Oliver, 54, had battled depression and anxiety for several years, and in 2014 suffered a devastating blow when her 15-year-old son Josh died after taking MDMA.

Her mental health deteriorated further earlier this year when her benefits were stopped by the Department for Work and Pensions, an inquest has heard.

Picture: Charlotte Dyer (4632944)
Picture: Charlotte Dyer (4632944)

Penny’s daughter, Charlotte Dyer, described Josh’s death as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for her mother.

“She struggled after losing Josh” she said. “He was only 15. I don’t think she ever got over it.

"It shook her massively, and then to be forced back into work was just too much to bear.

“Mum started working more hours at Harbour Street Tapas but it was physically demanding and she found that quite difficult.

"We tried to help her find alternative work, but she got turned down a few times, which knocked her confidence.

“She tried to put a brave face on and brush it aside, and it didn’t work.”

An inquest at the Archbishop’s Palace in Maidstone was told of Penny’s struggles after losing Josh.

The former Canterbury High school pupil, who lived in Dargate, fell ill at his girlfriend’s home in Whitstable, but could not be saved.

The hearing was told how police were called to her flat in Harbour Street, Whitstable, at about 9.30pm on June 14 this year, after a neighbour raised the alarm.

Penny Oliver with her son Josh, who died in 2015. Picture: Charlotte Dyer (4632932)
Penny Oliver with her son Josh, who died in 2015. Picture: Charlotte Dyer (4632932)

Officers found Penny unresponsive and gave her CPR, but she was pronounced dead shortly after 10pm.

Prescription medication was found at the scene, along with letters to her children.

Coroner Georgina Gibbs said: “The contents of these make it clear as to what her state of mind was.

"They are beautiful letters. She clearly loved her children very much indeed.

“Having seen the notes, which very clearly express her intention, I am coming to the conclusion that Penny-Ann Oliver died as a result of a deliberate act.”

The inquest heard how, at the beginning of this year, the DWP halted Penny’s benefits.

Her GP, Dr Richard Brice, who saw her on January 5, said: “She presented increasing anxiety provoked by the DWP stopping her benefits, prompting her to go from part-time to full-time. She was happy to try working full-time.”

But when he next saw her on March 10, she was “very tearful with low moods and anxiety”.

In the days leading up to her death, Penny reactivated her Facebook account and changed her profile photo to one of her three children.

She also unexpectedly gave away a dog that her son Alex had bought for her.

Penny Oliver with her daughter Charlotte and son Alex. Picture: Charlotte Dyer (4632947)
Penny Oliver with her daughter Charlotte and son Alex. Picture: Charlotte Dyer (4632947)

Pathologist Konstantinos Skendros said Penny died as a result of an intoxication of mixed prescription drugs.

Addressing Charlotte, Ms Gibbs said: “I’m extremely sorry to you that you lost your mother in these absolutely tragic circumstances, and I hope that you can come to terms with this in the future.

“You obviously gave her an enormous amount of love and support, but sometimes we can’t make people better who have ill mental health, no matter how hard we try.”

After the hearing, Charlotte paid tribute to her mother.

“She was a very creative person,” she said. “She loved cooking, and painting and decorating the house for Christmas.

We’d dance around the living room to Arrested Development or Mungo Jerry. She was the life and soul.”

Penny’s funeral was held in Barham on July 4.

“We walked in to You Raise Me Up,” said Charlotte. “It was fitting - she put so much into raising us, she kind of forgot about herself really.”

Her ashes were scattered in an orchard in Hernhill, and on Josh’s grave.

For confidential support on an emotional issue, call Samaritans on 116 123.

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