Warwick University ‘should have been more proactive,’ inquest into student’s suicide finds

Will Bargate took his own life during lockdown

A coroner has ruled the University of Warwick “should have been more proactive” with their support for a student who took their own life during lockdown.

Will Bargate was a second-year Warwick Business School student, who took his own life during the lockdown of October 2020, after moving to his family home in Little Sampford in Essex to work remotely.

Despite having no previous history of mental health problems, he began not responding to emails about missed coursework or personal tutor meetings, BBC reports.

An inquest into his death also heard that Will failed his second year exams and ultimately his course when he didn’t respond to emails inviting him to re-sit.

On September 26th 2020, he was seen leaving home at 3:20am, and was reported missing by his family the following day. On October 1st, his body was found in the woods less than a quarter of a mile from his home.

His father Quentin Bargate described his son, a “straight A” student at A-level, as “always smiling… happy and engaged.” He said the family were not aware of any of the issues Will was experiencing, and believe they should have been contacted.

Three days after Will’s passing, a letter arrived from Warwick declaring they had “no choice but to suspend his studies”, a decision made without making contact with Will, his family or his personal tutor.

Sean Horstead, the area coroner for Essex, described Will’s death as “unpredicted and unpredictable”.

“The striking thing is the almost total disengagement that was manifest, no contact after the finished group project to which [Will] contributed through March,” said Mr Horstead. “But by May and through June, Will had simply withdrawn from any active, productive engagement with the course requirements.”

He also said the disengagement “could and should have… generated a more proactive engagement with Will on the part of the university.”

The coroner concluded that Will died by suicide and noted that changes have since been made at the uni, such as WBS significantly lowering the threshold for referrals to wellbeing services.

University of Warwick Vice Chancellor Stuart Croft said: “Will was a gifted student who was popular with both students and staff on his course. His death shocked and saddened our whole community and it’s impossible to imagine the pain it causes those closest to him.

“Following Will’s death, we carried out an internal review to see if and where we could improve and strengthen our approach. As a result, we have changed our procedure for contacting students if they fail to meet deadlines and do not respond to emails from the university.

“In these circumstances, we will now attempt to get in touch in a variety of ways to help us to identify trigger points to escalate concerns to the wellbeing team, who will use their professional clinical judgment to assess the situation and identify any steps we should take to try to reach students.

“And if a student misses an exam and no mitigating circumstances are submitted, this will now automatically trigger a follow up contact. As ever, we will remain open to further improvements and will continue to explore ways of strengthening our approach.”

The full statement can be accessed here.

If you are struggling with stress or experiencing any mental health issues, there is help available.  The Warwick Wellbeing Support Services, offering self-help resources and one-to-one counselling, can be found here. You can also contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time.

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