'No parent should outlive their child' - family on Exeter Uni student's 'avoidable' suicide

The family of Exeter University student Harry Armstrong say his death was 'entirely avoidable'

The family of an Exeter University student from Cornwall who took his own life after becoming isolated during lockdown say his death was 'entirely avoidable'.

Harry Armstrong Evans, 21, was a third-year physics and astrophysics student at the University of Exeter when he died at his home in Launceston, Cornwall, in June 2021.

A coroner concluded today (31 October) that he died as a result of suicide after struggling with his mental health during lockdown.

Harry's family told ITV News West Country his death could have been avoided if he had received better support from the university.

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Harry, aged four, with his father Rupert Credit: Family handout

Harry's dad Rupert Armstrong Evans said: "For too long universities have operated in a space where under the law they are not obliged to provide any duty of care to the young people at their institutions.

"This absence of responsibility by universities comes at a time when our children, their students, are under the most extraordinary amount of academic pressure and when they are still transitioning from childhood to adulthood.

"Legally they are adults but emotionally many are not mature enough to process the suffocating stress of exams - and in the case of Harry when they do raise their hands and ask for help, it is often too little, too late."

  • Harry's family speak to ITV News following their son's inquest

Paying tribute to his son, he added: "He was our pride and joy and his passing was made all the more tragic because it was entirely avoidable."

The inquest in Truro heard Harry emailed his tutor on 28 May 2021 expressing concerns about his January exam results.

The emails were referred to the University of Exeter’s wellbeing department and it responded. But it emerged no member of academic or welfare staff had spoken to Harry by phone or in person since his email in May, before his death a month later.

Harry, aged three, with his mum Alice Credit: Family handout

Harry's mum, Alice Armstrong Evans, had tried to speak with the University of Exeter’s wellbeing service in the months leading up to his death, but the inquest heard she did not receive a reply due to an IT failure.

"It never crossed our mind that we would lose our son when he went to university," she said.

In a statement registrar at the University of Exeter Mike Shore-Nye said: "We are deeply saddened by Harry’s death and the family's loss.

"We continually review and improve the wellbeing support we provide based on evidence and learnings, including from tragic cases such as Harry’s.

"We will consider the coroner’s detailed conclusions in this case and make sure we learn the lessons to enhance our support and operations further, specifically in the areas recommended by the Coroner.

Harry Armstrong Evans was studying at the University of Exeter at the time of his death Credit: Family handout/PA

"On education, during the pandemic all students were supported with a no-disadvantage guarantee to ensure their assessment marks didn’t suffer as a result of the difficult circumstances surrounding the pandemic.

"And we continue to take a compassionate and supportive approach to all students who are struggling with personal circumstances and the societal pressures we face today.”

Harry's family are now calling on the government to adopt what they're calling 'Harry's Law'.

Under it, universities would have to publish the annual student suicide rate and ensure they hold a duty of care to all students.

Rupert added: "These measures would, we have no doubt, ensure that fewer parents are made to suffer the misery that we will live with forever.

"No parent should outlive their child."

If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available.

  • Call Samaritans on 116 123

  • Call the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) on 0800 58 58 58