Bristol University student with anxiety killed herself before big presentation, court hears

A “hard-working and high-achieving” student suffering from anxiety killed herself because the University of Bristol did not make alternative arrangements for her assessments, her parents have claimed.

Natasha Abrahart, 20, was found dead in her flat in April 2018, the day before she was due to take part in a group presentation to staff and students in a 329-seat lecture theatre.

She had made a previous suicide attempt earlier in the winter term, and university staff were aware she was struggling.

In February 2018 she emailed one university employee saying: “I’ve been having suicidal thoughts and to a certain degree attempted it.”

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Her parents Robert and Margaret are suing the university, claiming it failed to deliver on its duties to their daughter under the Equalities Act.

At a hearing at the Bristol Civil Justice Centre, the couple alleged the university failed to make reasonable adjustments for Ms Abrahart’s mental disability.

They also claim she was a victim of indirect discrimination and suffered discrimination as a disabled student.

Jamie Burton QC, for the claimants, said Ms Abrahart had been acutely shy from childhood.

Ms Abrahart, who was originally from Nottinghamshire, had grown up fascinated by physics and had taught herself computer programming.

Natasha Abrahart Credit: Family photo

He said she surrounded herself with a small group of long-standing friends while growing up, but did not talk much.

Mr Burton added: “She would shut down when made the centre of attention or when confronted by people in positions of authority.”

Despite her social anxiety, the court heard Ms Abrahart had enrolled on a four-year masters course at the University of Bristol, and was in her second year when she died.

Mr Burton said although she made friends, she rarely socialised outside her home, and if she did go out she was reliant on friends to order drinks and food for her.

Before the presentation, known as a laboratory conference, Ms Abrahart had struggled to complete one-on-on interview-based assessments, attending only two out of five.

In her first assessment, she was so shy she scored only eight out of a possible 20 marks.

The court heard in the months before her death, there was a “significant deterioration in her mental health”.

Ms Abrahart had carried out internet searches on the link between anxiety and depression.

“(This) is about disability-related discrimination – about the provision of education to Natasha, a disabled student,” Mr Burton said.

Ms Abrahart’s family say oral assessments could have been replaced with written versions or she could have been provided with questions in advance.

They also say the laboratory conference could have been moved to a smaller venue.

Mr Burton said despite the civil claim, Ms Abrahart’s parents do not allege any member of staff breached their duty of care to her, noting many had tried to help her.

He added it was not claimed the university was in any way responsible for ensuring she got better or accessed services.