Parents Criticise Lack of Apology and Commitment To Learning Lessons
The University of Bristol has applied for permission to appeal against a court ruling that it caused the death of a vulnerable student.
The parents of Natasha Abrahart are campaigning to improve student welfare following their daughter’s death. Natasha had been diagnosed with chronic Social Anxiety Disorder in February 2018. She took her life on 30 April, 2018, the day she was due to give a presentation to fellow University of Bristol students and staff in a 329-seat lecture theatre.
Judge finds university breached Equality Act
Last month, a senior judge at Bristol County Court found that the university had breached the Equality Act 2010 in the way it treated Natasha, a 20-year-old second year physics student.
His Honour Judge Alex Ralton found that the university had breached its duties to make reasonable adjustments to the way it assessed Natasha; 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, noting that: “it was accepted by the medical experts that the primary stressor and cause of Natasha’s depressive illness was oral assessment.”
At the conclusion of the trial 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”.
This defence was rejected by Judge Ralton, who found: “It is obvious to me that the fundamental purpose of the assessments was to elicit from Natasha answers to questions put to her following the experiments and it is a statement of the obvious that such a process does not automatically require face to face oral interaction and there are other ways of achieving the same.”
The Judge found that adjustments, such as removing the need for oral assessments altogether or, in relation to the conference on 30 April, 2018, assessing Natasha in the absence of her peers or using a smaller venue, were reasonable and should have been put in place.
He observed that “whilst a few ideas” regarding possible adjustments were “floated” by the university “none were implemented”.
University of Bristol ordered to pay damages
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. This reflected the injury to Natasha’s feelings, the deterioration in her mental health caused by the university, and funeral costs.
Permission to appeal 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.
Natasha's parents criticise application to appeal judgment
Natasha’s parents Robert and Margaret Abrahart, of Nottingham, have spoken of their disappointment regarding the university’s application to appeal the judgment.
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.”
Expert Opinion“Natasha’s family will now submit representations to the court opposing the university’s arguments, which closely follow the points already made at trial.” Gus Silverman - Associate Solicitor
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