Saturday 21 October 2017

Talented art student took her own life after camping trip sex assault - inquest

'She was bright, happy and highly intelligent... she had a passion for drawing and nature'

Hannah Armstrong hoped to make a fresh start at university, but she took her own life shortly after moving to Bournemouth
Hannah Armstrong hoped to make a fresh start at university, but she took her own life shortly after moving to Bournemouth

Jack Backwell

A talented art student who dreamed of designing models and creatures for Hollywood films took her own life after being sexually assaulted on a camping trip, a coroner heard.

Two days after celebrating her 20th birthday, Hannah Armstrong moved to a seaside university in England, where she hoped to make a "fresh start" after her ordeal.

But two weeks into her new life she told a friend she wanted to hurt herself, and feared the man she accused of assaulting her would escape justice.

The concerned pal immediately called the police, but when officers knocked on her halls of residence door she had already taken her own life.

Hannah, who had previously attempted suicide, moved from Ballymena, Co Antrim to the Arts University in Bournemouth, Dorset, where she started a course after being one of only four people in Northern Ireland to achieve A* results in art and design and media.

Coroner Sheriff Payne, conducting the inquest at Bournemouth Coroners Court, heard how Hannah had suffered from depression since being sexually assaulted during a camping trip with friends when she was 17. She reported the attack to police just 10 months before she died.

The inquest was told that on September 27 last year police received a call from one of the young woman's friends after Hannah admitted to her that she wanted to hurt herself.

Officers from Dorset Police attended the halls of residence on Madeira Road in the town and found her body. Paramedics tried to revive her, but she died at the scene.

In a statement read at the inquest Hannah's mother, Dr Hilary Armstrong, a GP who runs a cosmetic skin clinic, said her daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and a mental illness in 2011 after her grades slipped and "she lost her sparkle". However, she claimed that medication improved her outlook on life.

"Hannah was the eldest of four children," Mrs Armstrong added. "She was bright, happy and highly intelligent. She had a passion for drawing and nature, and was an exceptionally gifted artist. She spent all of her free time out of school drawing and sculpting.

"In summer of 2014 her appearance changed. She had her hair cut short and her make-up was dramatic. She appeared angry most of the time and avoided spending time with the family.

"She revealed to me she had been sexually assaulted in 2013 while camping with friends and said it made her feel violated.

"Hannah had not divulged this to anyone. On New Year's Day 2015 she told the police.

"She began to detest her local town because of the fear of bumping into him (the man she accused of assaulting her).

"Hannah told me she was destined to work in Hollywood, creating models and creatures for the big screen."

The coroner heard that Hannah's family was anxious about their daughter being far away from home, but they thought that stopping her from following her dreams could lead to her taking her life at home in Northern Ireland.

On the day she died on September 27, 2015, she called her mother, who said her daughter was "tearful and very low".

"She said she did not feel mentally strong enough to continue her course," her mother added. "Hannah missed home and feared being attacked again. She was also fearful that he (the perpetrator) would not be convicted due to lack of evidence."

Recording a verdict of suicide on Tuesday, Mr Payne said: "This is a very sad story of a young 20-year-old woman who suffered from depression in recent years.

"Her main aim in life was to pursue a career as a model maker for the film industry.

"Having explored options at different universities, she settled at Bournemouth. To all intents and purposes, this was ideal and she greatly looked forward to it.

"Her mother was also concerned that if they interfered with her plans, she might attempt suicide again in Northern Ireland.

"During the course of September 27 Hannah was deeply depressed and had a long conversation with her mother around lunchtime. She was in communication with her boyfriend and a female friend throughout the course of the day. They became concerned and called the police.

"It is with great sadness that I have to record a verdict that she took her own life, that she committed suicide, on a background of depression and previous suicide attempts in the time recent to her death."

Those affected by this story can contact Samaritans free of charge from any phone on 116123, email jo@samaritans.org or find the details for your local branch at www.samaritans.org

Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News