Family of student who died after alcohol-fuelled initiation criticise university

The father of a 20-year-old student who died after drinking excessively during an initiation event has said his family have been left “utterly underwhelmed” by Newcastle University’s response to the tragedy.

Ed Farmer, a first-year economics student at the university, died following an Agricultural Society event in December 2016.

He was found unresponsive in a hallway following the outing, which involved attendees drinking vodka from a pig’s head, bobbing apples from a bucket of urine and having their heads shaved, an inquest heard.

Speaking after a coroner ruled his son’s death resulted from the “toxic effects” of excessive drinking, Jeremy Farmer said the four-day inquest at Newcastle Civic Centre had been a “difficult and testing process to navigate”.

He said his family had been left “utterly underwhelmed and frustrated by the apparent inactivity of Newcastle University and its student union to get to the heart of the problem of student initiations”.

He added: “Ed’s is not the first utterly needless and wasteful death to come about through this potentially fatal practice.

“We heard in evidence how initiations have been ongoing at Newcastle University in excess of 10 years, possibly even 30 to 40 years, despite such events being apparently banned by the university and student union.

“We recognise this problem is not unique to Newcastle University.”

During the inquest, a coroner heard how those attending the event went on a bar crawl around the city centre, with “older students” ordering a round of 100 triple vodkas to be shared between the attendees.

Newcastle University
Mr Farmer was a first-year economics student at Newcastle University (PA)

The court heard Mr Farmer, who witnesses described as being “nervous” about attending, then had to be carried to a nearby Metro station in order to attend the next leg of the event, which took place at a second-year student’s home.

The coroner told how the student, of Leicester, was monitored by four older members of the group, who were “falsely reassured” by his snoring and believed he was sleeping off his drunkenness.

At around 4.43am, it was discovered Mr Farmer had stopped breathing, and he was rushed to the nearby Royal Victoria Infirmary, but he was declared dead at around 5.30am on December 13, 2016.

Recording a narrative conclusion at his inquest on Thursday, coroner Karen Dilks ruled: “Ed died due to the toxic effects of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time and in part because the inherent risks of doing so were not known.”

Adding that a copy of her report would be made available to Newcastle University, it students’ union, Universities UK, the Department for Education, the National Union of Students and the Department of Health, she called for first-year students to be given better teaching on the dangers of binge drinking.

Speaking outside court, Dr John Hogan, the registrar at Newcastle University, said Mr Farmer’s death had prompted a disciplinary investigation which found a breach of university rules by a number of students.

He said: “Since Ed’s death, we have already made a number of changes to the way we raise awareness among our students about the risks of alcohol and how they keep themselves and their fellow students safe.

“However having listened to the evidence, we will be reflecting carefully on all that we have learnt at the inquest and looking at whether there are areas where we can improve on what we do.”

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