'There are no fat cats in criminal law'
The University of Bristol has sought permission to appeal against a court ruling that it caused the death of a student from Nottingham who took her own life. Natasha Abrahart died on April 30 2018 while she was studying physics at the university – it was the day before she was due to give a presentation to fellow University of Bristol students and staff in a 329-seat lecture theatre.
She had been diagnosed with chronic Social Anxiety Disorder in February of that year and staff at the university became aware that she was experiencing anxiety and panic attacks in her oral assessments. After her death, Natasha’s parents, Robert and Margaret Abrahart – aged 66 and 60 and from West Bridgford – filed court documents challenging the university’s role in Natasha’s death – the trial was heard at Bristol Crown Court. 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.
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. The university has now sought permission to appeal the judge’s decision.
The univesity has told Nottinghamshire Live it has sought permission but has not decided whether it will appeal, saying it is continually reviewing the decision from the judge carefully. Robert and Natasha Abrahart have criticised this decision, saying they are “deeply disappointed” – the pair described their daughter after the trial as someone who gave them “so much joy” but who was failed by the institution.
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.”
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”.
Gus Silverman, a specialist public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing the family, said: “Natasha’s family will now submit representations to the court opposing the university’s arguments, which closely follow the points already made at trial.”
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.
“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.”
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Written by: thehitnetwork
'There are no fat cats in criminal law'