Parents sue Bristol University after their daughter killed herself

Parents sue Bristol University for negligence after their daughter with severe anxiety killed herself on the day she was due to give a presentation

  • Robert and Margaret Abrahart’s child Natasha took her life at Bristol in April 2018
  • They started legal action against university as they say it fell short of duty of care
  • They say staff knew Natasha, 20, suffered panic attacks and should have helped
  • Call Samaritans on 116 123 or visit a Samaritans branch, see

The family of a student who killed herself are suing her university for ‘discriminating’ against their daughter and ‘breaching its duties’.

Natasha Abrahart, 20, was in the second year of her physics degree at Bristol University when she took her own life in April 2018.

The student suffered from social anxiety disorder, which was said to make her ‘chronically shy’.

An inquest concluded last year the institution – previously hit by a spate of deaths – was not at fault.

But the coroner did find failings within local mental health services, whose care Natasha was under and later paid ‘substantial’ damages.

Parents Robert and Margaret from West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, have now announced they will be taking ‘costly’ civil action against the university.

Natasha Abrahart’s parents Robert and Margaret (pictured) have announced they will be taking ‘costly’ civil action against the Bristol University

Natasha (pictured), 20, was in the second year of her physics degree at the Bristol University when she took her own life in April 2018

They believe there is evidence their daughter’s treatment by the university ‘made a material contribution to her deteriorating mental health in the months before her death, and to her eventual suicide’.

They allege Bristol ‘breached its duties under the Equality Act’ and ‘discriminated against Natasha for reasons arising from her disability’, among other accusations.

The pair said the decision to sue was ‘not a step… undertaken lightly’ – but added they had ‘been left with no other option’.

A spokesman for the Bristol University said staff were ‘deeply affected’ by Natasha’s death and that work had been done to reduce the ‘stigma around mental health’.

The 20-year-old was found hanged in her flat

But she added a further comment would not be issued as legal proceedings were underway.

Mr and Mrs Abrahart revealed the legal action on a crowdfunding page started in the wake of their daughter’s suicide on Saturday.

They said: ‘Bringing these proceedings is not a step we have undertaken lightly. Although our lawyers are still working at substantially reduced rates, the costs of bringing a case to trial are significant.

‘We also face the risk of having to pay the University’s legal costs if we lose. Nonetheless we feel we’ve been left with no other option but to take our fight to the civil courts.

‘The overriding need for a costly civil action is fourfold: to hold the university to account; to establish the truth about what happened; to bring about changes in the way in which vulnerable students are supported at the University of Bristol and beyond; and to send a clear message to the entire higher education sector.’

The couple also laid out the reasons for the litigation on the website, which has received almost £29,000 in donations to date.

They claim Bristol ‘breached its duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to its standard practice of orally assessing students on Natasha’s course’.

They say this was ‘despite this practice placing her at a substantial disadvantage when compared with students who didn’t share her disability’.

Natasha’s parents Robert and Margaret Abrahart speak in her room in a BBC documentary last year as they fight for answers

They also allege the institution ‘indirectly discriminated against Natasha, for the same reasons’ and ‘discriminated […] for reasons arising from her disability’.

The parents say this was ‘when they docked her marks, awarded her no marks, or awarded her low marks in relation to the oral assessments’.

The pair added the university ‘breached their duty of care to Natasha by failing to provide her with adequate support when it became aware that she was suicidal and suffering from social anxiety’.

The inquest into Natasha’s death ruled she took her own life, partly because of neglect by the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust.

Mr and Mrs Abrahart (pictured at Natasha’s grave) claim Bristol ‘breached its duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to its standard practice of orally assessing students on Natasha’s course’

She was one of eleven Bristol University students to take their own lives between 2016 and 2018.

A spokesman for the institution said: ‘In May 2019, an inquest found that Natasha Abrahart, a student at the University, sadly took her own life in April 2018.

‘Her death deeply affected everyone at the University but particularly her family and friends and the staff and students who knew her best.

‘Legal proceedings regarding Natasha’s death are now underway, and so it would be inappropriate for the University to comment further at the present time.

‘We recognise mental health as one of the biggest public health issues, which is why we have adopted an institute-wide approach to foster an inclusive and safe environment for all students and staff.

‘We are also committed to reducing the stigma around mental health and creating space for it to permeate through every aspect of the University’s culture and experience.

‘Wellbeing remains at the heart of our University and we will continue to develop and implement our mental health support services and strategies to ensure our students and staff have access to the most effective and timely support possible.’

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