Bristol kicked student out by email and letter weeks before he died by suicide
He was in contact with 30 uni staff before his death
Thirty members of staff at Bristol University were involved in email correspondence regarding Ben Murray, a first-year English student who took his life in May last year, Avon Coroner's Court heard yesterday.
Despite these emails, Ben never had a face-to-face meeting. In fact, his father said that Ben had never even met his Personal Tutor during his time at Bristol.
Ben was formally dismissed from the university in February 2018 by an email and letter due to poor attendance and a missed exam.
The email Ben received was so ambiguously worded that he had to ask his friend what it meant. Meanwhile, the letter addressed to Ben was found unopened in his hall's pigeonhole after his death on May 5, 2018.
The inquest heard how Ben had a telephone meeting with Senior Tutor, Charles Gunter, in December 2018, in which he told Gunter he was "struggling to settle in at Uni".
Gunter advised him that it was "quite natural to feel a bit unsettled".
Gunter had previously emailed Ben links to the Student Services webpage, but made no follow up attempts to find out if Ben had acted on this.
During the inquest, his parents, James and Janet Murray, said: "If a 19-year-old says he is anxious and is not attending lectures you should immediately take action, and not just send him links. What further signs do you need that something is wrong?"
On Ben's dismissal, his parents stated: "In the workplace, you do not just send letters to sack people. There are proper procedures that should be followed."
The dismissal letter was the last contact that the English department had with Ben, Gunter revealed.
Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Student Experience at the University of Bristol, said:
“Any student death is a tragedy that hits at the very heart of our community. We are very sorry that Ben’s family feel that the support the University offered to Ben was not enough and we really want to understand how we can give the best possible support when students need help.
“Mental health is fast emerging as one of the biggest public health issues affecting young people in the UK and globally – not just those studying at University.
“This was identified as a key priority by the University in its strategy more than two years ago and work has been underway to introduce a whole-institution approach to mental health and wellbeing with additional investment in the support we provide our students in their accommodation, in academic schools and through central support services.
“At the start of the year we launched our own Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy, which outlines this whole-institution approach to student support and the steps we have taken to expand our student support provision.
“We are extremely grateful to Ben’s father James who has worked with us and our national body Universities UK since Ben’s tragic death to develop a Suicide Safer Strategy for universities. This is being adopted nationally to ensure measures are put in place to provide the best possible support and early intervention measures for students.
“We introduced an ‘opt-in’ policy at the start of this academic year which means we can inform a student’s trusted named contact if we have serious concerns about their welfare. This consent can be given or withdrawn by the student at any time during the year. 94 per cent of our students signed up to this at the start of the year.
“We are also piloting a new process for students required to withdraw from their studies, as was the case with Ben. This was first used after the February Exam Boards this year and means students who are about to be withdrawn are contacted and invited to a meeting with staff from both the academic school and our wellbeing team to explain the decision and the options available for the student.
“We are also committed to ongoing in-depth reviews of all serious incidents and tragedies, so we can continue to challenge ourselves to improve our processes, procedures and support on an ongoing basis.
“Like all universities, schools and colleges, we are deeply concerned by the increase of mental health issues amongst our young people nationally. Complex mental health challenges cannot be addressed by universities alone, and we cannot be expected to replace the NHS.
“We are, however, fully committed to working with our partners in the NHS, charities and across the HE sector in a collaborative effort to ensure we are providing the best possible support to our students.”
If you are experiencing any mental health issues or high levels of stress, help is readily available for those that need it.