Press Release: Family of Gaia Pope call for answers as the IOPC announce investigation into Dorset Police following the death of the missing teenager

6 April 2018 – The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) today announce their investigation into the actions of Dorset police following the disappearance of Gaia Pope, who was 19 years old.

Gaia was reported missing on 7 November 2017 in Swanage, Dorset by a family member. Her family communicated their concern for the missing teenager, who had Post Traumatic Stress disorder, following a serious sexual assault when she was 17. Gaia had epilepsy and did not have her medication when she went missing.

Following a police investigation and a public search for Gaia in which thousands of people participated, her body was found 11 days after her disappearance within a mile of where she was last seen.

In the months before her death she was increasingly afraid that the man who raped her and threatened her family would soon be eligible for early release. In addition to concerns about the conduct of the police, the family have questions about whether a lack of support from underfunded mental health and social services contributed to Gaia’s death.

A Pre-Inquest Review is scheduled for Monday 14 May, 10 am at Dorset coroners court. [The hearing has now been postponed until September.]

Natasha Pope, mother of Gaia said: “My daughter should still be with us today. She was a survivor. She had a sharp wit, she was intelligent, compassionate and so courageous; she was magnificent. Gaia was inspired by the challenges she faced to work in health and social care and dedicate her life to others. She tried to carry on her education but her epilepsy was deteriorating as she remembered more about the sexual assault she had endured. In hospital she would speak about what she’d been through but it felt like no one outside our family wanted to listen. Now, our family has been torn apart. As a mother my heart will always be broken. As a woman, I’m determined to do all we can to make sure this never happens again. I will always be proud of Gaia’s courage but what she went through should not have cost my daughter her life.”

Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST said: “There are serious questions about the actions of Dorset police and their duty of care that this investigation must address. Gaia was a vulnerable young woman, due to the trauma and mental and physical ill health she was experiencing as a victim of sexual assault. How her life could end this way deserves the utmost scrutiny. This family and the public need answers in the hope of preventing another young life lost.”

You can read the full release here on the INQUEST website. INQUEST has been working with the family of Gaia Pope since January 2018. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Sarah Kellas and Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers.

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