Nottingham parents continue to fight for the university’s duty of care

Will JeffordBBC News, East Midlands

The family of a student who committed suicide at university say they will continue to push for a legal duty of care in higher education.

Natasha Abrahart, from Nottingham, died at the University of Bristol (UoB) in April 2018.

A university appeal against a ruling that it contributed to her death by discriminating against her was rejected on Wednesday.

Her mother, Maggie Abrahart, said, “We won’t stop and we have a lot of families behind us.”

The 20-year-old student, who suffered from chronic social anxiety disorder, took her own life on the day she was scheduled to participate in a group presentation.

A High Court ruling found that the university had failed to make reasonable adjustments for Ms Abrahart.

However, a judge refused to say whether or not universities owe their students a duty of care, saying a ruling on the issue is “not necessary”.

A statutory duty of care would require all universities to act with reasonable care and skill to avoid harm to students.

A petition calling on Parliament to implement the law received 128,000 signatures before it was closed.

Robert Abrahart, Natasha’s father, said: ‘What we want is a legal duty of care.

“Everyone understands driving without the necessary care and attention. We want to train with the necessary care and attention.

“It’s very simple: we want people to act reasonably and responsibly in their daily work.”

Ms Abrahart added: “What we really need to do is ensure that everyone is protected and that is where the Duty of Care campaign is really important.”

On the day Ms Abrahart was found in her flat, she was due to give a presentation to more than 40 students in a 329-seat lecture hall.

The physics student was in her second year of university when, according to the family, “things started to go wrong” because she had to take oral assessments as part of her course.

Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor and President of UoB, said: “Natasha’s death is a tragedy – I am deeply sorry for the Abrahart family’s loss.

“At Bristol we care deeply about all our students and their mental health and wellbeing is a priority and at the heart of everything we do.”

After Ms Abrahart’s death, her family took legal action against the university, claiming it contributed to his daughter’s death by discriminating against her on the basis of her disability.

During a five-day trial in March 2022, Bristol County Court heard that Ms Abrahart had made a previous suicide attempt over the winter term, and university staff knew she was struggling.

A judge ruled that the university had breached its duties under the Equality Act by failing to make “reasonable adjustments” for Ms Abrahart in light of her debilitating anxiety, which is considered a disability.

The judge rejected a claim that the university had been negligent and ordered the university to pay £50,500 in damages.

Natasha’s parents work with the charity Inquest, which provides support and information on state-related deaths and investigations, and both say they will continue their fight for change in the education sector.

Of their campaign, Ms. Abrahart added: “We cannot save our own child, but we may be able to save others.”

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