‘Bright and funny’ student died following incident at cliffs near Eastbourne

A 20-year-old university student died due to an incident at the cliffs near Eastbourne last year.

Hannah Smith a student at the University of Lancaster, died at the Royal Sussex County Hospital on September 30 last year, an inquest heard.

The inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall on Thursday (April 1), heard Ms Smith was preparing to go back to university accommodation after being at the family home in London since March 2020 due to Covid restrictions.

Ms Smith’s parents, Paul Smith and Anne Jowett, said she ‘seemed to get on well at uni’ and was on course for a first class honours degree.

Eastbourne Town Hall (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-190425-155116008

They said, “She was bright and funny. There were no signs of problems at uni and we just wanted her to be happy.”

According to her parents, Ms Smith spent every evening with them watching television but they were worried about the amount of time she spent in her room throughout the day.

At 1.30pm on September 30 Mr Smith said he saw his daughter putting on her coat and she said she was going for a walk. Ms Smith was set to return to university the following day.

When Ms Smith hadn’t returned by 4.30pm, her parents texted her but received no reply and found a note left by her, as well as the receipt of a train ticket to Eastbourne.

Ms Smith travelled to Eastbourne where she was seen by Lynn Doidge, a member of the Beachy Head chaplaincy team.

Ms Doidge said she saw Ms Smith walking near the Beachy Head pub and then near the cliff edge around 5pm before losing sight of her.

Ms Smith was brought to the Royal Sussex County Hospital by the coastguard but at 6.53pm she was pronounced dead.

Ms Smith’s parents said, “We now know she was suffering from depression, she was good at hiding this.

“The trigger was that we were going to drive her back to Lancaster the next day. She couldn’t face the social anguish of going back to uni.”

East Sussex coroner Alan Craze ruled Ms Smith took her own life.

• If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the Samaritans may be able to help - the charity’s helpline number is 116 123.