ON the surface, she was a beautiful and talented student with her whole life ahead of her – but it masked a tragic reality of bulimia and self-harm.

And Laura Gerstel’s unhappiness with life ended with her being found hanging from the banisters in the York house she shared just hours after she left a haunting final message on the social networking site Facebook reading “Laura is thinking ‘If only…’”

The 20-year-old was in the third year of a biochemistry course at the University of York, having moved to the city from her home in North Berwick, Scotland.

Last November, she spent a day Christmas shopping with her mother and, according to one of her grieving friends, “seemed in a happy mood”.

But at 2.46am on November 26 last year, Laura posted a heartbreaking online farewell to the world.

Within two hours, she was found hanging from the stairs of her shared house in Fulford Road with a red ribbon tied around her neck.

A note she left behind told of her fears that she was overweight and, according to York coroner Donald Coverdale, “not wanting to live this way”.

Laura’s devastated father, Antony, who, along with the rest of her family, was not at the inquest into her death at York Coroners’ Court yesterday, said in a statement that his daughter had begun self-harming at the age of 12 and her family had discovered she was suffering from the eating disorder bulimia when she was 16.

Her parents had found cuts on her arms and legs, but Mr Gerstel said that when she moved to York: “She seemed fine and sent us happy-sounding texts.

“But it was as good as hiding her feelings.”

He also said his daughter became “compulsive” when she drank and that it “made everything seem worse”. At the time of her death, her body contained the equivalent of five shots of whisky or two-and-a-half pints of beer.

In another statement read out at the inquest, Laura’s friend, Emma Wellard, who shared the Fulford Road house with her, said she had been asleep in the early hours of November 26 last year when she was woken by another of their flatmates screaming.

“I came out of my room and saw Laura suspended from a red ribbon tied to the banister two floors up from the ground floor,” she said.

“I had known her for two years. She suffered from bulimia and I knew she had been taking anti-depressants.”

Recording an open verdict, Mr Coverdale said: “This is a very sad story.

“It is apparent Laura had suffered from a number of medical difficulties and, unfortunately, had self-harmed at times by cutting herself. Laura had not previously said anything about taking her own life and, by all accounts, had been having a happy time shopping with her mother.

“The level of alcohol she had consumed may well have impacted on her judgement.

“Suspending herself from a ribbon in this way was out of character and I am not satisfied that she clearly formed an intention to take her own life. I am afraid we shall never know what was in Laura’s mind.”

Tributes to bright Laura.

A University of York spokesman said: “Laura Gerstel’s tragic death came as a shock to everyone here.

“She was an enthusiastic and bright student, popular with staff and her fellow students, and she is missed greatly.”

Robin Corey, one of Laura’s friends, said: “Everybody who knew her loved her.

“She was one of the few people it was always a genuine pleasure to be around and talk to – always so bright and bubbly and full of fun and laughter. Having Laura on a night out made the whole night more enjoyable.”