THE grieving family of a former coal miner who took his own life after being investigated by benefit fraud officers believe he would still be here if he had been told him how much money he needed to repay.

James ‘Jimmy’ Ballentine overdosed on prescription drugs on the day of his twin grandsons’ fourth birthday earlier this year - leaving beside him a suicide note to loved ones which read: “Sorry son you will have to bury me...forgive me leaving you with my debt, cannot take it anymore.”

The proud 60-year-old had months earlier learned he had over-claimed benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after receiving a letter from the Fraud Investigation Team.

Son Dale Ballentine, 34, told The Northern Echo that while making a new benefits claim late last year he declared he had savings of £7,000.

The father-of-two, who suffered from depression and other mental health issues including schizophrenia, was told he had been over-claiming for a decade as there was a means-tested £6,000 savings cap.

It is understood Mr Ballentine made efforts to find out how much money he owed but was unable to get an answer.

Dale, 34, said: “This is the whole point of our grievance - is if they told him up front (what he owed) I really believed he would have paid it, that would be the end of it and he would still be here.”

Jimmy had followed in his father’s footsteps and worked in the mines from the age of 15 until he was made redundant when the pits closed.

From then he was signed off sick permanently and spent periods of time in mental health institutions.

Dale said: “In the past 13 years he got a flat in Consett and had started to make a bit of improvement - he never went back into hospital and finally got a bit of independence.”

But when the DWP launched its investigation Jimmy was sent into a spiral of depression which continued until after Christmas - leading to his death on February 13.

Despite reassurances from Dale and sister Clare Ballentine, 32, thier father believed his mistake could leave him owing tens of thousands.

“He immediately thought I’m guilty and I’m going to have to go to court,” added Dale. “The system is supposed to be there to protect vulnerable people. My dad’s state of mind and mental illness was never taken into account.

“He was a proud northern man, a gentle giant and wouldn’t harm anyone. It’s just sad that he was let down.”

Dale is appealing for anyone who finds themself in a similar situation to seek help from Mind.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with Mr Ballentine’s family. We were aware of Mr Ballentine’s mental health issues, and our staff were dealing with the situation as sensitively as possible, while also supporting him and his family to access the right benefit support.”

An inquest into his death at Crook Civic Centre today heard senior coroner Andrew Tweddle record a conclusion of suicide.