A judge has ruled Bristol University discriminated against a student who took her own life on the day she was due to give a presentation.
Natasha Abrahart died in 2018 - she was just 20 years old.
Her parents - Bob and Maggie Abrahart - have always maintained the university did not do enough to support their daughter, who had severe social anxiety.
She was due to give a presentation to a 329-seat lecture theatre audience on the day she died.
The Abraharts have now successfully sued Bristol University over their daughter's death
In a judgement published today (19 May), His Honour Judge Alex Ralton ruled Bristol University ignored Natasha's disability and must pay her parents £50,000 in damages.
It added: “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.”
Natasha was also under the care of specialist mental health professionals at Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership when she died, which has since acknowledged the care it provided was inadequate.
When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch
During the legal case against Bristol University, the judge heard how the university failed to make adjustments for Natasha during the timeline set out below:
24 October, 2017
Natasha attended her first post-laboratory interview. She did not answer any of the questions and left partway through. She later attended a rescheduled interview but university records state she “did not do well”.
28 November, 2017
Natasha missed her second scheduled interview, despite having been seen in the laboratory earlier that day. A mark of 0 out of 100 was entered onto her student record.
5 December, 2017
Natasha met with the senior tutor in the School of Physics, Dr Adrian Barnes. In a record read to the court Dr Barnes observed she has a problem with "panic and anxiety issues" with the interview assessment format.
He asked Natasha to see her GP or the Student Counselling Service to see whether they could diagnose any particular issues to get a Disability Support Summary if necessary.
30 January, 2018
Natasha missed her third scheduled interview and was again assigned a mark of 0 out of 100. The court heard that these marks would have been available for Natasha to view online.
13 February, 2018
Natasha met with Dr Barnes again. He recalled she was still very nervous and difficult to talk to.
After the meeting Dr Barnes emailed the University’s Disability Services asking them to contact Natasha.
He explained she had good attendance but was absent on assessment days.
He said that in terms of the laboratory interviews the School of Physics was willing “to consider modified or alternative forms of assessment but without any recommendations it is difficult to see what reasonable adjustments we can make”.
14 February, 2018
A Disability Services receptionist emailed Natasha and asked her to book an appointment. Natasha did not reply and no one from Disability Services contacted her again.
16 February, 2019
A student administration manager at the School of Physics, Barbara Perks, relayed information provided by Natasha's flatmate to the University’s Student Wellbeing Service.
It noted she “suffers from social anxiety” and had been self-harming, saying she had support from her senior tutor but Barbara feels it is "not enough".
The Student Wellbeing Service did not make contact with Natasha at any point.
19 February, 2018
Natasha told her flatmate she had written a suicide note.
20 February, 2019
Natasha's flatmate sent an email to Ms Perks from Natasha’s account and with her consent. It said she was having suicidal thoughts and "to a certain degree" had attempted it.
The court heard that Ms Perks did not tell anyone about the email.
Later that morning Ms Perks, went with Natasha and her flatmate to the University’s GP service. The GP assessed Natasha as being in a state of acute distress, was at high risk of ending her life, and referred her to mental health services.
24 February, 2018
Natasha completed online mental health tests, which indicated she was suffering from “severe depression” and “very severe social phobia”
26 February, 2019
Natasha suffered a panic attack.
27 February, 2019
Natasha failed to attend her fourth scheduled laboratory interview. She was given 0 marks out of 100 and two penalty points.
6 March, 2018
Ms Perks emailed the student wellbeing service saying she had concerns about Natasha's presentations, suggesting possible alternatives.
The judge found that none of these potential adjustments were implemented.
20 March, 2018
Natasha's flatmate interrupted her attempting to end her life.
He contacted Natasha’s parents that night and Mrs Abrahart spoke with her daughter over the phone.
Natasha said she was safe and that she would make an urgent GP appointment the next day.
Mrs Abrahart told the court: “I was very concerned that I should not do anything which could potentially make things worse for Natasha, by trying to force her to talk about things she didn’t want to discuss with me over the phone.
"Looking back on it I also think I was just so shocked and confused by what had happened. It was such a contrast between how Natasha had been when I last saw her. It just didn't make any sense.”
Natasha’s parents planned to collect her after her GP appointment the following day but in the end agreed to let her stay in Bristol a little longer so that she could be properly assessed by a local mental health specialist.
22 March, 2018
A crisis team visited Natasha's flat and also spoke with her boyfriend. They noted she was "under stress from the university" and assessment model.
24 March, 2018
Natasha was collected by her mother and driven back to the family home in Nottingham, where she remained for the Easter holidays.
During the holiday Natasha wouldn’t tell her parents what had been behind her suicidal behaviour and insisted on returning to Bristol for the new term.
26 April, 2018
Natasha attended her fifth scheduled post-laboratory interview but only scored eight out of 20, the same mark as when she had left the first interview partway through.
27 April, 2018
Ms Perks discussed the forthcoming laboratory conference presentation with Natasha. In a statement, Ms Perks said she told Natasha she would not have to talk at the presentation if she did not want to.
Ms Perks also told the court Natasha had indicated that she wanted to participate in the delivery of her group’s presentation.
But in a statement to the inquest into Natasha’s death, the unit director for practical physics 203, Dr Chris Bell, said no changes were made to the form of assessment as there had been no request to do so either by Natasha or the disability support summary.
30 April, 2018
Natasha's flatmate found she had locked herself in a room and was unresponsive. He called the emergency services, who forced entry into Natasha’s room and found her dead.