, 22, killed herself six months after reporting the sex attack by Elgan Varney, at Keele University.
“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you,” reads the inscription on the grave of Hannah Stubbs. It sits only feet from the home she shared with her parents. Her bedroom window is just visible through the trees.
Up to this point, Amanda Stubbs has admirably held her poise, but at the grave – out of sight of her four remaining children – she breaks down, her tears flowing freely. This is the place where she can grieve openly for the premature and senseless loss of a precious daughter.
The man accused of raping her daughter walked free from court after charges against him were dropped. Hannah, 22, killed herself six months after reporting the attack by Elgan Varney, at Keele University.
Varney, a 33-year-old student at the same university, had denied two counts of rape and one count of sexual assault. The trial collapsed after the Crown Prosecution Service said there was not a realistic prospect of conviction.
“This grieving will never go away,” Amanda says. “We will always be a family, although we will never be the family that we were. Part of your life does end when your child dies.”
Hannah killed herself after accusing Varney, her fellow physiotherapy student, of rape and sexual assault. Unusually, the university did not suspend Varney while he was being investigated, meaning Hannah faced him regularly.
Terrified and in turmoil, Hannah felt she had no option but to leave university. The strain of her seeing Varney at university had sent her into a mental health unit. On 29 August 2015 she killed herself at home in Staffordshire.
“Initially, we were just in shock. We couldn’t believe it had happened and kept going over it,” says her father Paul.
“I mean you can never move on from such a devastating thing. Life changes forever. You can’t even put a scale on it,” adds Amanda, in the first interview since her death.
“Every time you wake up in the morning and you have that same feeling: that terrible feeling that she is no longer here. But then you have to get up because there is the rest of the family. They still need us. A lot of things are now bittersweet.”
In early 2015, Amanda said she became aware Hannah had become fond of Varney but she told her mother that he did not want to be in a relationship with her.
Subsequently, Hannah became unnaturally anxious, prompting Amanda to question her. “I don’t know why, but I asked her whether Elgan had assaulted her and she put her head down and wouldn’t speak. She refused to talk to me about it.”
In March 2015 Hannah had been on a climbing trip with some friends including Varney and suffered an accident. She was taken to hospital on a spinal board. During her consultation in A&E a doctor noticed that she was behaving oddly, as if she was afraid. He asked Varney and her other friends to leave the room.
In the days that followed Hannah told two friends that Varney had sexually assaulted her. It was followed by an official complaint to her university and then to the police. Varney was questioned but not immediately charged and it was during this interim period that Hannah’s mental health deteriorated.
Varney, formerly of Newcastle-under-Lyme, had always denied the allegations claiming he had been wrongly accused after he told Hannah that he did not want to be in a relationship with her.
Speaking outside court, after his trial was halted, Varney said: “I will sadly never know the exact reasons for Hannah’s actions. I wish to acknowledge how tragic the complainant’s untimely death was, and as someone who only ever cared about her.
“I know she was a troubled young woman, and it pains me that she made unfounded allegations that came about after I told her I didn’t want to be in a relationship with her. I have felt a whole mixture of emotions since I was shockingly accused, ranging from anger to deep depression.”
Keele University decided not to suspend Varney claiming their policy meant he would only be suspended if he was charged. Hannah encountered him in lectures and friends would have to walk her from her car. She suffered from panic attacks. Eventually she felt she had no other option, and was forced to leave university.
Her parents strongly believe that their daughter would be alive today had she received appropriate care and support from the university.
Paul says: “The university as an institution really did fail Hannah because they did not segregate them. She had to come face-to-face with this man every day.
“But I couldn’t really understand their policy. As a business owner I know that if someone is accused of sexual assault you would suspend them immediately pending an investigation. I have got to ask how bad those circumstances have got to be for them to exercise that power.”
The university was in contact with Hannah via email and twice advised her not to attend a climbing trip with her friends in the interest of fairness as Varney had been told he could not attend. Amanda says: “Hannah felt like she was being punished. All her friends were there but she couldn’t go and she was depressed already.
“I felt very disappointed with the way they were dealing with it at the time. After the panic attack she never went back. She was petrified of seeing him.”
The university has refused to respond to these allegations. In a statement it said: “We are aware of the outcome of the case today, and our thoughts remain with Hannah’s family. The welfare of our students continues to be our priority.”
Varney is now in talks with the institution about a possible return to campus. In a statement read outside court he said he should never have been charged, that people accused of rape should be allowed to remain anonymous, and that he had been put through a “horrendous ordeal”.
He questioned the timing of the prosecutors’ decision to drop the case four days before a trial and more than two years since the allegations were made.
Varney said: “Police and CPS policy offers no protection to those wrongfully accused and many lives are left in tatters. It is a problem that has to be acknowledged and not ignored for fear of putting genuine victims off reporting. Because the reality is false allegations only harm the cause of those with a genuine complaint.”
At her inquest the coroner recorded a narrative verdict. Paul says the coroner had to request for the university to disclose further evidence after it attempted to redact parts of emails sent from Hannah to management. “It was a concerted effort by the university . It was shameful.”
Paul recalls how a meeting with university officials after Hannah’s death, which he presumed would be sympathetic and conciliatory, became “hostile, intimidating and defensive”.
“The university’s only objective at that meeting and the inquest was to protect their own interests and reputation. No sensitivity at all. They are in denial ...” He pauses, and then breaks down “At the end of the day I don’t care about the university or Elgan,” he says. “It is just the loss of Hannah. She was my little girl.”
• In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14.
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