Press Release: Independent Medical Experts called at today’s Pre-Inquest Review

  • Pre-Inquest Review Hearing on the disappearance and death of Dorset teenager Gaia Pope was held today at Bournemouth Town Hall.
  • Gaia’s family believe she died due to failings by police and mental health services following an incident of rape. 
  • The Coroner has confirmed that she will now instruct two independent medical experts to provide opinions on Gaia’s care ahead of the full inquest in April 2022.

Wednesday 19 May: inquest proceedings into the death of 19-year-old Gaia Pope from Swanage resumed today with a Pre-Inquest Review hearing at Bournemouth Town Hall. Senior coroner for Dorset Rachael Griffin has confirmed that she will now be instructing two independent medical experts to provide opinions regarding the adequacy of the epilepsy care Gaia received as well as another expert to comment on the sufficiency of this care in light of Gaia’s mental health difficulties.

It was also confirmed that the family will be allowed to show the jury an innovative video multimedia ‘pen portrait’ of Gaia at the inquest which is due to run for three months from 24 April 2022.

Gaia approached Dorset Police in December 2015 to report she had been raped by a known sex offender. Dorset Police dropped Gaia’s case, which preceded a decline in her mental and physical health (Gaia suffered from epilepsy and post-traumatic stress.) Following several hospitalisations Gaia disappeared on 7 November 2017 and following an enormous police search and community effort to find her, after eleven days her body was recovered by which point she had died of hypothermia.

Her family say vital questions about Gaia’s death – and the adequacy of local support services – remain unanswered. With 82 reports per conviction in 2018, Dorset Police has one of the worst conviction rates for rape in the UK. The county also has a significantly higher rates of suicides and A&E admissions due to self harm compared to the national average and the family were devastated to learn in September 2020 that Gaia was sexually harassed by another patient while under section at St Anne’s Hospital, after which no safeguarding referral was made.

Natasha Pope, Gaia’s mum, says: “This long drawn out process is difficult for us to bear but we are confident that progress is being made. We want to make sure our tragic loss leads to positive change for others in our community. To this end Gaia has already become a formidable force. Only a glimmer of light is required to break through the darkness.”

Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Gaia’s cousin, says: “As a survivor Gaia was denied justice from the police and support from the NHS. What connects these things is a culture, one that says if the effects of ill health or abuse make it harder for us to stand up for ourselves then our rights don’t matter. There are far too many bereaved families in this country who know this to be true. We want justice for all of them. We want to live in a world where hospitals take care of us and the police protect us. It’s not much to ask.”

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice which is supporting the family, says: “The road to justice for Gaia is proving to be a long and difficult one, but her family and friends remain determined, as do their many allies. After Sarah Everard, women’s confidence in the police is at an all time low and many will be following Gaia’s story as a measure of what justice the state can offer survivors – and what needs to change to save lives like Gaia’s.”

Lucy McKay, on behalf of the charity INQUEST, says: “This hearing comes a time of increased public concern around gendered violence and the police response to missing people, following the murder of Sarah Everard and a number of high profile cases. The scrutiny the inquest process provides in examining the death of Gaia Pope is vital. Not only to ensure the family can access the truth about what happened, and hopefully get some justice and accountability, but also in the public interest to ensure changes are made to protect lives in future.”

Due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, attendance at the hearing today was limited. Members of the public are invited to show support online instead using the hashtag #JusticeForGaia. 

***

Please respect the privacy of Gaia’s family and friends at this time and ensure all press enquiries go through the stated channels. You can follow the family’s Justice for Gaia campaign on Facebook, Instagram and twitter @JusticeForGaia and find out more via their website. 

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