Academic took own life after quitting post

An academic drowned herself "while the balance of her mind was disturbed" after quitting her post in the belief that she was being forced out of her role, an inquest has heard.

July 5, 2012

Julia Swindells, a former professor of English literature at Anglia Ruskin University, went missing from her home in Cambridge on 29 October last year, a coroner's court in Huntingdon heard on 28 June. Her body was recovered from the River Cam eight days later.

Rowland Wymer, professor of English literature at Anglia Ruskin, described Professor Swindells as a "warm, lively and witty colleague", but said he had become concerned for her welfare last July.

"She was letting her anxiety get the better of her," Professor Wymer said. "At a certain point, things spiralled out of control."

Despite this, he said, he was keen for Professor Swindells to remain in her post because he believed her research would aid the university in the upcoming research excellence framework, due to start in 2013.

"She had some very good publications and some good plans for research," he said.

The inquest heard how Professor Swindells - a former senior research fellow at Homerton College, Cambridge - mistakenly thought the university was monitoring her emails and thus quit her post, fearing she would be forced out.

But Derrik Ferney, pro vice-chancellor at Anglia Ruskin, told the inquiry that he met Professor Swindells and asked her to reconsider her resignation. "I got quite alarmed because I felt I was talking to two Julias," Professor Ferney said. "She was always very lively, alert and witty, but here she was quite withdrawn. She behaved in a way I had never seen before."

He said that he reluctantly accepted her resignation after Professor Swindells said she had had an "irresistible offer" from another university.

In the week before her death, she told her husband that she had contemplated suicide and was seen by her GP, an emergency mental health team and a social worker.

Coroner David Morris returned a verdict of suicide "while the balance of her mind was disturbed", noting her "strained relationship with her university where she had many admirers".

jack.grove@tsleducation.com.

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