Family of Student Who Died of Alcohol Consumption Hit Out at University Drinking Culture

On the 13th December 2016, a ‘drink-fuelled initiation’ into the Agriculture Society at the University of Newcastle ended tragically with the death of 1st year economics student Ed Farmer.

Now, almost two years on, an inquest has made clear the series of events which led to Ed’s death, and has put the University and its Union under fire from the student’s parents, Jeremy and Helen Farmer.

The events of the night, as reported by fellow students at the bar crawl, involved a variety of ‘bizarre initiation rites’. Among other things, students had their heads shaved and spray painted, were forced to bob for apples in a mixture of urine and alcohol, and to drink vodka from a pig’s head.

It was reported that in one bar, 100 triple vodkas were ordered for the new members to share, and that Ed personally consumed around 27 shots of vodka in three hours. The effect this had on Ed was evidently severe; recently released footage has shown that he collapsed in a metro station and had to be carried to the final destination (the house of Society President James Carr) by other students.

It was here that Ed collapsed on the floor, likely suffering a cardiac arrest which led to severe brain damage. Other students claim to be ‘falsely reassured’ by his snoring, believing that he was sleeping off his drunkenness.

James Carr recalls being woken at half 4 that morning by commotion in the house; it was then that Ed was taken to hospital, after fellow students found that he wasn’t breathing. By the time Ed reached the hospital, the damage to his brain was too severe for recovery; he died in the early hours of the morning with his parents by his side.

Ed’s father told that he was “utterly underwhelmed and frustrated by the apparent inactivity of Newcastle University and its Student Union” in rooting out the problem.

Such initiations have reportedly been going on for 30 to 40 years at the University, despite the fact that the University had banned them on the grounds of being ‘dangerous’. Second year student Guy Baker said that such events “put a lot of pressure on people” to drink large quantities.

Ed’s father addressed the issue as a wider problem, and not just an isolated incident: “Ed’s is not the first utterly needless and wasteful death to come about through this potentially fatal practice.”

In response to Ed’s death, the University took action against the society, placing sanctions on appropriate individuals and making previously optional induction talks on the dangers of binge-drinking compulsory for new students.

Registrar Lesley Braiden voiced what she believed to be the unfortunate reality of the situation: “it is practically an impossible task” for Universities to prevent such events, due to them taking place off campus.

Going forward, both Ed’s parents and the University wish to continue raising awareness among students. Dr Hogan, Newcastle University registrar, commented that they must persevere in educating students “about the risks of alcohol, and how they can keep themselves and their fellow students safe,” in order to prevent such a tragedy occurring again.

Joseph Bellamy

Image: [iStock]