‘It’s not against the Abrahart family’: Bristol Uni takes suicide ruling to High Court
The university is attempting a second appeal against the ruling which found it in part liable for the death of its student
Bristol Uni has submitted an appeal to the High Court after a judge found the institution to be guilty of breaching the Equality Act 2010 following the tragic suicide of Natasha Abrahart.
Natasha Abrahart, who suffered from social anxiety disorder, died by suicide on 30 April 2018 before she was due to perform a mandatory presentation at a 329-seat lecture theatre. The judge ruled that the university had breached the Equality Act 201o as it did not adequately accommodate her mental health disability and was summarily ordered to pay £50,000 in damages and 93 per cent of the Abrahart family’s legal costs.
Previously the University had stated they were unsure whether they would appeal the decision.
In June, a university spokesperson said: “Given the significant impact this decision could have on how all higher education providers support their students, we are reviewing the decision carefully, including whether to appeal. In light of that review, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the judgment at the present time”.
Last week, its attempt to appeal Judge Ralton’s ruling was quashed by the judge who said the university was “essentially repeating” the same arguments.
A university spokesperson said: “After carefully considering the judgement and its implications for the higher education sector, we will be seeking leave from the High Court to appeal the judge’s finding that the University was in breach of the Equality Act.
“We would like to make it clear that this appeal is not against the Abrahart family, nor are we disputing the specific circumstances of Natasha’s death. We remain deeply sorry for their loss and we are not contesting the damages awarded by the judge.
“In appealing, we are seeking absolute clarity for the higher education sector around the application of the Equality Act when staff do not know a student has a disability, or when it has yet to be diagnosed.
“We hope it will also enable us to provide transparency to students and their families about how we support them and to give all university staff across the country the confidence to do that properly.
“In Natasha’s case, academic and administrative staff assisted Natasha with a referral to both the NHS and our Disability Services, as well as suggesting alternative options for her academic assessment to alleviate the anxiety she faced about presenting her laboratory findings to her peers.”
Second-year physics student Natasha had suffered from severe social anxiety for many years. Whilst the court ruling found the university had failed Natasha under the Equality Act 2010, her parents want universities to adopt a “legal duty to exercise reasonable care and skill” for all students going forward.
In a recent interview, Natasha’s parents told ITV: “What’s really, really important is that we get changes soon because those changes are going to save lives.
“But you have to start by finding out what the problem is, identifying the problem. I really think the duty of care could be a starting point because we want to save lives right now, we don’t want to wait for the research in ten years’ time.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably, for men aged 15 to 35) on 0800 58 58 58. You matter.
A list of well-being services available to Bristol students can be found here.
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Featured image via SWNS