Parents slam University of Bristol for seeking permission to appeal Natasha Abrahart judgement

‘We are deeply disappointed’

The parents of Natasha Abrahart have critcised The University of Bristol after it applied for permission to appeal against a court ruling that it caused the death of their daughter.

Rob and Margaret Abrahart are campaigning to improve student welfare following Natasha’s death in 2019.

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During BristolWorld’s focus on student suicides earlier this month, they spoke to us about their mission to define ‘duty of care’.

Natasha, a 20-year-old Physics student in her second year, was diagnosed with chronic social anxiety disorder in February 2018.

Natasha Abrahart (pictured) sadly took her own life in 2018, the day she was due to give a presentation. She had social anxiety disorder and, despite being a gifted student, was struggling with the second year of her physics course.

A few months later on April 30, the day she was due to give a presentation to fellow University of Bristol students, she took her own life.

University breaches ‘led to student’s death’

In May, a senior judge at Bristol County Court found that the university had breached the Equality Act 2010 in the way it treated Natasha.

Judge Alex Ralton found that the university had breached its duties to make reasonable adjustments ‘to the way it assessed her, engaged in indirect disability discrimination against Natasha; and treated Natasha unfavourably because of the consequences of her disability’. He found that these breaches led to her death.

The University accepted that its assessment methods had made a material contribution to Natasha’s death but denied that it was required to modify those assessments for her as ‘an ability to explain and justify experimental work orally is a core competency of a professional scientist’.

After finding that Natasha’s suffering was ‘serious and, from what I have seen in the evidence, continuous’ the Judge ordered the university to pay damages of £50,518.

University seeks permission to appeal

The University hasn’t yet decided whether to appeal the decision or not, but is seeking permission in case it decides to do so in the future.

Permission will only be granted where the court considers that the appeal would have ‘a real prospect of success’ or ‘there is some other compelling reason for the appeal to be heard’.

Robert and Margaret Abrahart, of Nottingham, have spoken of their disappointment regarding the University’s application to appeal the judgment.

Natasha Abrahart with her parents Robert and Margaret.

Robert 66, a retired university lecturer, said: “It’s been a month since we called on the university to sit down with us so we could help it make the changes needed to keep students safe. We are deeply disappointed that the university is instead trying to re-run arguments which failed at trial.”

Margaret Abrahart, 60, a retired psychological wellbeing practitioner, said: “How much longer will we have to wait before the university apologises for what happened to Natasha?

“Even more importantly, how much longer is the university going to wait before implementing the lessons from Natasha’s death, which have been obvious for years now?

“At the trial the university couldn’t point to one meaningful change it had made to the systems which failed our daughter. It should be focusing on keeping students safe instead of dragging out this painful legal process.”

University’s statement

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “We have not yet decided whether we will be appealing the judgement or not. Seeking permission to appeal means we can appeal if we eventually decide to do so.

“Given the significant impact last month’s judgement in relation to the death of Natasha Abrahart could have on how all higher education providers support their students, we continue to review the decision carefully, including whether to appeal.

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“We are fully committed to working with our partners in the NHS, charities and across the higher education sector in a collaborative effort to ensure we are collectively providing the best possible support for students in their studies. This commitment means we are continually reviewing and improving the pastoral support offered to our students.”