Mom demands universities be ‘held accountable’ after daughter’s suicide

Christmas Carol: Mother fights for justice after college fails, daughter who took her own life

Phoebe Grime, 20, took her own life in 2021 and mother Hilary is now dedicated to stopping more suicides (Image: Hilary Grime)

A devastated mother who lost her “valuable” 20-year-old daughter to suicide claims she was “failed” by Newcastle University and two police forces.

Hilary Grime, 57, was suffering pain “beyond her human capacity” when college student Phoebe took her own life and died on June 5, 2021.

It took Northumbria Police and Kent Police together six hours to contact Hilary and tell her her daughter was in hospital – as panicked doctors warned her life was “slipping away”.

Meanwhile, Newcastle University reportedly knew of a previous suicide plan Phoebe had eight months before her death, but staff didn’t notify her parents and a second set of counseling sessions wasn’t offered for seven months.

Phoebe told a college counselor she “wanted the pain to stop” a day before ending her life, but denied any suicidal intentions and her parents were not contacted about the incident either.

A coroner told an inquest that she “couldn’t identify any point where things should have been done differently for Phoebe by anyone involved in her support” from the university.

But Hilary – who had no idea her daughter was contemplating suicide – disagrees and has joined forces with a group of bereaved parents campaigning for changes in the law to make universities more scrutinized and more accountable.

Universities are expected to act appropriately to protect the health, safety and welfare of students – but the duty of care is not a legal obligation, although it is in schools, workplaces and prisons.

“If anyone had told me about Phoebe like I asked them, I would have been in that car straight away,” Hilary, who now raises suicide prevention awareness, told

“When someone is drowning, you don’t walk past. I am so angry that they stand up and say they believe nothing more could have been done.

Christmas Carol: Mother fights for justice after college fails, daughter who took her own life

Phoebe was “the most precious, most divine person in the world,” says her mother (Image: Hilary Grime)

Christmas Carol: Mother fights for justice after college fails, daughter who took her own life

Hilary didn’t know her daughter was having suicidal thoughts (Image: Hilary Grime)

She added: “Sometimes I get stuck in my tracks. I still can’t believe it, how can it be true? I lost the most precious, most divine person in the world, and she was only 20 years old.”

Phoebe, from Cranbrook in Kent, struggled with anxiety after moving to university in 2019 and called her mum crying “uncontrollably” every day.

Hilary contacted the university’s student services department in December of the same year, expressing her concern for her daughter and asking them to contact her if they had any concerns.

Philosophy student Phoebe received six sessions of university counseling along with educational support after struggling with her living situation and academic expectations in early 2020.

But things got worse when the UK was thrown into a Covid lockdown, leaving her feeling “alone” and having “no contact hours” with her teachers.

In October 2020, she was close to ending her life and informed the university in a counseling session, but was only able to have another six sessions a year after her last fight.

After being diagnosed with depression, Phoebe received the tragic news that her father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had to deal with a breakup shortly thereafter.

When her counseling began again in the summer of 2021, she put her hand on her heart and told her therapist to remember to stop the pain.

But she denied any suicidal intentions at the June 2 meeting, and self-care like good sleep and healthy eating were discussed.

At around 1pm the next day, Phoebe was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary after attempting suicide.

Hilary says it took Northumbria Police two and a half hours to tell their local force – and Kent Police officers then decided they needed to see her in person to break the news.

Christmas Carol: Mother fights for justice after college fails, daughter who took her own life

Phoebe suffered from anxiety and depression (Image: Hilary Grime)

Christmas Carol: Mother fights for justice after college fails, daughter who took her own life

The devastated mum has joined forces with a group of bereaved parents campaigning for a change in the law (Image: Hilary Grime)

More hours were lost as they struggled to find her, and they finally told the heartbroken mother in a phone call anyway.

Hilary did not reach her daughter until 11:30 p.m. that evening, but Phoebe was unconscious and died on June 5.

“If I had had those six hours, they said she was breathing in a lot more on her own that she could have heard me. This is absolutely devastating to me,” Hilary said.

“I told the police, ‘You can’t possibly have children of your own. If so, you would be there as soon as possible.” I just couldn’t accept that she was going to die when I got there.’

Both police forces say they have reflected on their approach and made improvements.

Newcastle University told an inquiry in March this year that staff were unaware Phoebe was at high risk.

Concluding a suicide verdict, Assistant Medical Examiner for Newcastle and North Tyneside, Karin Welsh, said: “In short, and having considered things very carefully, I cannot identify any point at which things are going wrong for Phoebe from anyone involved in her support involved should have been done differently.’

But Hilary argues that someone should have contacted her, claiming Phoebe was “ill-advised as the issues ran much deeper.”

She’s not the only one feeling let down, as 25 other parents on the Learn Network have joined forces to petition Parliament to legislate on where a university’s duty of care begins and ends.

What the Samaritans say:

  • Suicide is a difficult subject, but one of the crucial ways to prevent suicide is to encourage someone who is having trouble talking about their suicidal thoughts.
  • Thoughts of suicide are often temporary and can be interrupted.
  • The terms we use to talk about suicide are important because inappropriate language use can be distressing for people who have been affected by suicide or who have lived suicidal thoughts. Instead of “committing suicide” use “taken your own life” and instead of “unsuccessful” or “failed suicide attempt” use “attempted suicide”.
  • Suicide is extremely complex and rarely the result of a single factor, so it’s important that we don’t oversimplify the reasons why someone took their own life.
  • Talking can be a lifesaver – whether it’s with a family member, friend, or a confidential hotline like Samaritan. Our volunteers are always there to listen and they will not judge you or tell you what to do.
  • Anyone can contact Samaritans toll-free at 116 123, email, or visit for more information and resources.

Hilary said, “Universities can say we care about student safety and welfare,” but if they don’t, or their advice is bad, or they didn’t put two and two together, or they didn’t follow up, they are not accountable. It’s really wrong.’

In October, Universities UK, which represents 140 British universities, released new advice urging universities to contact a student’s family if they have serious concerns about their mental health.

If an additional legal requirement is introduced, it is “essential that it does not lead to unintended consequences for students and improves mental health outcomes and safety for all,” a representative said.

Current data protection laws allow organizations to share personal information in emergency situations, including to help them prevent loss of life or serious physical, emotional or mental harm.

Figures released in May by the Office for National Statistics showed that the suicide rate for college students in the academic year ending 2020 was three deaths per 100,000 students in England and Wales – 64 deaths.

This is the lowest rate in four years and “could be real or explained by delays in coroner investigations.”

Universities UK spokesman added that universities are prioritizing student mental health and are working with NHS services to “respond to an unprecedented explosion in the needs of our children and young adults”.

A Newcastle University spokesman said staff and students were “devastated by Phoebe’s death and our thoughts are with her family and friends”.

They cited the coroner’s statement that university staff could not have done more, but added that they are “never complacent and continually work to improve the services and support we offer students”.

“Phoebe was a talented and popular student with great potential and she will be fondly remembered by the staff and students who had the pleasure of meeting her during her time at Newcastle University,” they said.

“During the 18 months she studied with us, Phoebe received continuous help and we worked hard to support her throughout her studies. There was a support plan in place to help her with her academic studies and she had a dedicated advisor who helped her through a very difficult time.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education called it a “tragic case,” but didn’t comment on whether they would consider a statutory duty of care in higher education.

Pupils’ mental health is of “paramount importance” and the Office for Students has been asked to allocate £15million to pupils’ mental health this year, they noted.

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Justin Scacco

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