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Bristol Uni to pay £50,000 in landmark case as judge rules they contributed to student suicide

The family of a student who committed suicide was awarded £50,000 in damages after winning a landmark civil case against a university for contributing to her death.

A senior judge found the University of Bristol liable for “multiple breaches” of its legal duties towards its former student Natasha Abrahart, 20, who took her own life in 2018.

The verdict followed a trial in March this year to decide whether the university had a direct role to play in Natasha’s death.

His body was found in his private apartment in April 2018, the day he was due to give a presentation to colleagues and staff in a 329-seat conference room.

The sophomore physics student had been diagnosed with chronic social anxiety disorder in February 2018.

The University of Bristol must pay £50,000 in damages, after a judge ruled today that they contributed to the suicide of Natasha Abrahart in 2018 by taking part in a

The University of Bristol must pay £50,000 in damages, after a judge ruled today that they contributed to Natasha Abrahart’s 2018 suicide by engaging in “indirect disability discrimination” against the 20-year-old physics student. In the photo: Natasha Abrahart

She was one of 12 University of Bristol students believed to have taken their own lives since October 2016.

Natasha’s parents, Robert, 65, and Margaret Abrahart, 60, filed court papers challenging the university’s role in Natasha’s death.

Lawyers for the family argued that the university violated the 2010 Equality Act when it failed to adjust its oral testing regimen in light of Natasha’s social anxiety disorder.

These breaches, the family’s attorneys argued, caused a deterioration in Natasha’s mental health that led to her death.

In a 46-page written ruling, Judge Alex Ralton found that the university had failed in its duties to make reasonable accommodations in the way it evaluated Natasha; he engaged in vicarious disability discrimination against Natasha; and he treated Natasha unfavorably because of the consequences of her disability.

He found that these infractions led to her death, noting that “medical experts accepted that the main stressor and cause of Natasha’s depressive illness was the oral evaluation.”

The judge also found that accommodations, such as eliminating the need for oral evaluations altogether or, in connection with the April 30, 2018 conference, testing Natasha in the absence of her peers or using a smaller venue, were reasonable and should have been done. place.

He noted that ‘although the University ‘proposed’ some ideas about possible adjustments, ‘none were implemented’.

After determining that Natasha’s suffering was ‘serious and, from what I have seen of the evidence, continuing’, the judge ordered the university to pay compensation of £50,518.

This reflected the damage to Natasha’s feelings, the deterioration of her mental health caused by the University, and the costs of the funeral.

Speaking after the ruling, Natasha’s father, Robert Abrahart, a retired university professor, said: “Today, 1,481 days after Natasha took her own life on the day of an assessment she simply couldn’t do, after years of protests from the University she was from did everything they could to support her, having worked our way through an investigation and civil trial, we finally have the truth.

“The University of Bristol broke the law and exposed our daughter to months of totally unnecessary psychological trauma, as she watched her grades drop and her hopes for the future crumble before her eyes.”

Mother Margaret Abrahart, a retired psychological well-being practitioner, said: “We really hope that the University of Bristol will finally get its head out of the sand and recognize that now is the time for change.”

We stand ready to work with them to help ensure that the failures that led to Natasha’s death are not repeated so that other families do not have to suffer as we have. We hope you will apologize for your role in Natasha’s death and accept our offer of help.

Natasha's father, Robert Abrahart, 65, said after the ruling that

Natasha’s father, Robert Abrahart, 65, said after the ruling that “after years of protests from the University that it did everything in its power to support her, having worked our way through an investigation and a civil trial, We finally have the truth.” . In the photo (from left to right): Margaret, Robert and Natasha Abrahart

1653067998 657 Bristol Uni to pay 50000 in landmark case as judge

“As Natasha’s case tragically illustrates, violating the Equality Act is not only illegal, it can be fatal,” said Gus Silverman, a public law and human rights specialist who represents the Abrahart family.

Gus Silverman, Public Law and Human Rights Specialist at Irwin Mitchell on behalf of the family, said: ‘This ruling should serve as a wake-up call for all institutions of higher education.

‘They have to make sure they understand and fulfill their duties under the Equality Law. This means not evaluating students with disabilities, including those disabled by mental illness, in the same way as students who do not share their disability if such evaluations put those students at a substantial disadvantage, unless there is a very good reason to do so. do it.

‘This is not about giving disabled students an unfair advantage over their peers; it’s about leveling the playing field so everyone has a chance to succeed.

‘As Natasha’s case tragically illustrates, breaking the Equality Act is not only illegal, it can also be fatal.’

A spokesperson for the University of Bristol said: “Our entire university community has been deeply affected by Natasha’s tragic death and once again we would like to extend our condolences to her friends and family.”

‘Like all universities, schools and colleges, we are deeply concerned about the rise in mental health issues among our young people nationally.

‘We do everything we can to support any student who is struggling with their mental health and we have a wide range of services available.

“We believe that the staff at the School of Physics worked incredibly hard and diligently to support Natasha during her time with us, and it was through 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 ease the anxiety she faced when presenting her lab findings to her peers.

‘We are very grateful to them for their efforts on behalf of Natasha and for their unwavering commitment to our students.

“Along with the support available, we have introduced an opt-in policy to alert a designated contact when we have serious concerns about a student’s well-being and stronger procedures for assessing students’ readiness to study.

“However, it is important that students receive the appropriate specialist care from the NHS should they need it.

‘We cannot replicate the NHS, but we are committed to working with the NHS and other partners to improve services and ensure that we collectively provide the best possible support for students.

“Given the significant impact this decision could have on the way all higher education providers support their students, we are reviewing the decision carefully, including the possibility of appeal.

“In light of that review, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the sentence at this time.”

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