‘Say sorry to us, we’re waiting’: Natasha Abrahart’s parents call for apology from Bristol Uni

‘We want [the uni] to read this judgment very carefully and follow its lessons’

Following yesterday’s (14th February) High Court ruling to uphold the decision that Bristol University contributed towards Natasha Abrahart’s death, her parents, Maggie and Bob Abrahart, appealed for more action and an apology from the university.

Natasha, who suffered from chronic social anxiety disorder, took her own life in April 2018 on the same day she was due to give a presentation in a 329-seat lecture theatre.

Four years later, Mr Abrahart launched legal action against Bristol University, arguing that it had failed to make reasonable adjustments for his daughter.

In May 2022, Bristol County Court ruled that the university had contributed to Ms Abrahart’s death by discriminating against her on the grounds of disability, and five months later, Bristol University submitted an appeal against these findings to the High Court.

Natasha Abrahart suffered from a severe anxiety disorder

Speaking outside Bristol Civil Justice Centre after yesterday’s dismissal of the appeal, Mr Abrahart stressed how the university had received “worrying information” before the day Natasha took her own life.

“Her friend and flatmate told a member of staff that Natasha was ‘self-harming’ and had been ‘cutting herself’. That same staff member received an email from Natasha saying: ‘I’ve been having suicidal thoughts and to a certain degree attempted it’.

“And what did the university do with this information? As good as nothing,” he said.

He went on to repeat the initial statement he made with Mrs Abrahart in May 2022 after the County Court made its judgement, where they had highlighted the different ways they blamed the university.

Mr Abrahart described how he now also blamed it for “making inappropriate public statements” following the initial judgement.

He said: “It was, frankly, beyond belief for the university to mischaracterise a court judgment, that it had unlawfully contributed to the death of one of its students, as merely a finding that ‘the adjustments made by the university … were insufficient’.

“As if it had engaged in some trivial technical breach. As if our daughter’s death was something to be explained away. As if our pain was an inconvenient distraction from the business, and it is a business, of attracting students and funders. Shame on you!”

“As if it had engaged in some trivial technical breach. As if our daughter’s death was something to be explained away. As if our pain was an inconvenient distraction from the business, and it is a business, of attracting students and funders. Shame on you!”

Maggie Abrahart proceeded to direct her statement towards Professor Evelyn Welch, telling the university’s vice-chancellor that “it is time to stop this,” referencing both the “pointless appeal” and the university’s “PR machine”.

She added: “We don’t need, or want, your sympathy. We want action. We want you to read this judgment very carefully and follow its lessons. We want you to think how you would wish your son or daughter to be treated at university if they were disabled and needed their rights protecting.

“We are still willing to sit down with you. Listen to what we have to say. And finally, at last, five years and nine months after Natasha’s death, say sorry to us. We’re waiting.”

Mrs Abrahart went on to discuss the campaign they have been involved with, which involves other families of students “who have been harmed by the universities they attended”.

The group, ForThe100, is calling for change by campaigning for Parliament to require “all universities to act with reasonable care and skill so as to avoid causing harm to students”.

Mrs Abrahart turned to politicians, calling directly upon “Keir Starmer, Rishi Sunak, and the other party leaders,” asking them to prove they are against universities allowing harm to their students by ensuring there is “a statutory duty of care for universities [their] manifestos”.

After thanking those who have supported them, Maggie concluded her statement with a final message to the university.

“Natasha only had one standard. To do her best. Now it is the time for university managers to match her standard, by delivering what is both necessary and expected,” she said.

Following yesterday’s ruling, Professor Evelyn Welch said: “Natasha’s death is a tragedy – I am deeply sorry for the Abrahart family’s loss.

“At Bristol, we care profoundly for all our students and their mental health and wellbeing is a priority and is at the heart of everything we do. We continue to develop and improve our services and safeguards to support our students who need help.

“In appealing, we were seeking 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. We will work with colleagues across the sector as we consider the judgment.

“I am grateful to our dedicated colleagues who work tirelessly to support all our students and to those who specifically supported Natasha which included a referral to the NHS. Higher Education staff across the country share our deep concern about the increase of mental health issues amongst young people, and with that rise comes the increasing importance that staff, students, and their families are clear on what support universities can and should provide, and that students receive appropriate specialist care under the NHS should they need it.

“In 2022 Bristol became one of the first universities to receive the University Mental Health Charter Award, which recognises the continued hard work of our staff and students in terms of taking a strong, structured approach towards improving mental health and wellbeing across our university. We know there is always more to do, and we will keep working to achieve the best for everyone in our community.”

The University of Bristol said Professor Welch is writing to Mr and Mrs Abrahart with an offer to meet with her.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Bristol University contributed towards Natasha Abrahart’s death, High Court upholds

Bristol Uni Jewish Society protest against David Miller following tribunal ruling