Natasha Abrahart’s body was found in her private flat on April 30, 2018- the day she was due to give a presentation to fellow students and staff in a 329-seat lecture theatre.
The second-year physics student had been diagnosed with chronic Social Anxiety Disorder in February 2018.
Natasha Abrahart, 20, was found dead in her flat the day before she was due to give a presentation to fellow students and staff at the University of Bristol.
Natasha, was who originally from Nottingham, had been a high-achieving student until her second year at university.
In October 2017 academic staff became aware that the 20-year-old was struggling and experiencing anxiety and panic attacks in relation to oral assessments that formed part of a laboratory module.
How Did Natasha Abrahart Die? What The Judge Said
In a 46-page written judgment issued today (Friday, May 20) at Bristol County Court His Honour Judge Alex Ralton found that the University had ‘breached its duties to make reasonable adjustments to the way it assessed Natasha’.
It also ‘engaged in indirect disability discrimination against Natasha; and treated Natasha unfavourably because of the consequences of her disability’.
The case was heard at Bristol County Court.
Judge Ralton found that these breaches led to her death, noting that “it was accepted by the medical experts that the primary stressor and cause of Natasha’s depressive illness was oral assessment.”
After finding that Natasha’s suffering was ‘serious and, from what I have seen in the evidence, continuous’ the Judge ordered the University to pay damages of £50,518.
This reflected the injury to Natasha’s feelings, the deterioration in her mental health caused by the University, along with funeral costs.
Who are Natasha Abrahart Parents And What They Said Over The Death of Their Daughter?
We are the parents of Natasha Abrahart, who took her own life on 30 April 2018 aged 20. She was a second-year physics student at the University of Bristol and the 10th of 11 students at that university to die in this way since October 2016. In the months before her death, Natasha told the University, the student GP practice, and the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Trust that she was suicidal and had acted on these thoughts.
Shortly after Natasha died, another student’s death was reported in the press, making a total of three deaths in three weeks at the University of Bristol. Still in shock, we suddenly became very aware of other grieving families and devastated friends. Like us they would be asking: “Why did this happen? Could anything have been done to prevent it?” Our initial personal grief and disbelief intensified to the point of wanting to help put matters right.
It is difficult for us as parents to accept the enormity and awfulness of what has happened. People at Natasha’s funeral asked “Why has this happened?” This is the question we’re now trying to get answered in court. If we understand what happened, we can do something about it. We want answers that will benefit new and returning students, especially vulnerable students who are at risk. To do this we need your support. Please contribute now and share this page with your friends, family and on social media.
Natasha with her parents Robert and Margaret, who say they want ‘lessons to be learned in the wake of their daughter’s suicide.
Natasha’s mother Margaret Abrahart, a retired psychological wellbeing practitioner, said she hoped the University would ‘take it to head out of the sand’ and recognize ‘that now is the time for a change.
She added: “We are ready to work with them to help ensure that the failings which led to Natasha’s death aren’t repeated so other families don’t have to suffer as we have suffered.
“We hope they will apologize for the role they played in Natasha’s death and will take us up on our offer of help.”
What the University of Bristol said
A University of Bristol spokesperson said that the ‘whole university community’ had been ‘deeply affected by Natasha’s tragic death’ and the institution extended its sympathies to her friends and family.
“Like all universities, schools and colleges, we are deeply concerned by the increase of mental health issues amongst our young people nationally,” the spokesperson added:
“We do our very best to support any student who is struggling with their mental health and have a wide range of services available.
“We believe staff in the School of Physics worked incredibly hard and diligently to support Natasha during her time with us, and it was due to their efforts that she was receiving specialist mental health support from the NHS.
“Our staff’s efforts also included offering alternative options for Natasha’s assessments to alleviate the anxiety she faced about presenting her laboratory findings to her peers.
“We are very grateful to them for their endeavors on Natasha’s behalf and for their unwavering commitment to our students.
“Alongside the support available, we have introduced an opt-in policy to alert a nominated contact when we have serious concerns about a student’s wellbeing and more robust procedures to assess students’ fitness to study.
“However, it is important that students receive appropriate specialist care under the NHS should they need it.
“We cannot replicate the NHS but are committed to working with the NHS and other partners to improve services and ensure we are collectively providing the best possible support for students.
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.”
Health Trust admitted ‘missed opportunities’ in Natasha’s care
An inquest into Natasha’s death was heard before the Senior Coroner for Avon between 7 and 16 May 2019, and found the cause of death to be suicide contributed to by neglect on the part of the Avon and Wiltshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
The Coroner had earlier ruled that the adequacy of support provided to Natasha by the University of Bristol was outside of the scope of her inquest.
The court heard that Natasha had been an incredibly gifted student but ‘shy from a young age’.
In May 2019 Natasha’s family settled claims against the mental health trust.
The Trust admitted that it missed opportunities to provide Natasha with “an enhanced and more assertive level of care” but denied causing her death.