Natasha Abrahart suicide: University of Bristol to make High Court appeal over discrimination ruling

Natasha Abrahart was 20 when she took her own life

The University of Bristol is appealing a court ruling that found it discriminated against one of its students who took their own life.

Natasha Abrahart, who was from Nottinghamshire and studied in Bristol, died on 30 April 2018 after suffering from chronic Social Anxiety Disorder.

Earlier this year, a senior judge at Bristol County Court found the university had breached the Equality Act 2010 in the way it treated Natasha, who had been studying physics.

The University of Bristol is now taking its appeal against the ruling to the High Court.

A university spokesperson said: “We would like to make it clear that this appeal is not against the Abrahart family, nor are we disputing the specific circumstances of Natasha’s death. We remain deeply sorry for their loss and we are not contesting the damages awarded by the judge.

“In appealing, we are seeking absolute clarity for the higher education sector around the application of the Equality Act when staff do not know a student has a disability, or when it has yet to be diagnosed."

Natasha Abrahart (right) with her mum Margaret.

Since childhood, Natasha had suffered from severe social anxiety and her parents argued that the university did not do enough to accommodate her needs.

She died on the day she was due to give a presentation to a 329-seat lecture theatre audience.

In March, Natasha's parents sued Bristol University on the grounds of negligence and disability discrimination.

In May, a judge ruled the university discriminated against Natasha by failing to accommodate her mental health disability. He ordered the university to pay damages of £50,000.

The statement from the University of Bristol added: “In Natasha’s case, academic and administrative staff assisted Natasha with a referral to both the NHS and our Disability Services, as well as suggesting alternative options for her academic assessment to alleviate the anxiety she faced about presenting her laboratory findings to her peers. 

“However the judgement suggests they should have gone further than this, although Natasha's mental health difficulties had not been diagnosed. Understandably, this has caused considerable anxiety as it puts a major additional burden on staff who are primarily educators, not healthcare professionals.

“Higher education staff across the country share our concern about the wider impact this judgement could have.

"Collectively, we are deeply concerned by the increase of mental health issues amongst our young people nationally, and are determined to do our very best to support any student who is struggling with their mental health through the provision of a wide range of services.

"At the same time, it is important that students and their families are clear on what universities can and cannot do, and that students receive appropriate specialist care under the NHS should they need it.”

Following the ruling in May Natasha's dad Robert Abrahart, who is himself a retired university lecturer called for change.

He said: “After years of protestations from the university that it did all it could to support her, after having battled our way through an inquest and a civil trial, we finally have the truth: The University of Bristol broke the law and exposed our daughter to months of wholly unnecessary psychological trauma, as she watched her grades plummet, and her hopes for the future crumble before her eyes.”

Natasha's mum, Margaret, added: "We really hope that the University of Bristol will finally take its head out of the sand and recognise that now is the time for change. 

"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."