Press release: Anniversary Of Gaia Pope’s Disappearance Marked By Call For Connor Hayes Witnesses & Survivors To Come Forward To The Centre For Women’s Justice

  • The Centre for Women’s Justice invites confidential testimony from witnesses and survivors of prolific sex offender Connor Hayes. 
  • Hayes, from Bournemouth, was repeatedly imprisoned and re-released for separate sex offences after Gaia’s rape allegation against him was dropped by Dorset Police. 
  • Dorset Police has one of the UK’s worst prosecution rates for sexual offences, charging cases in just 46 of the 2058 recorded 2019-2020.

The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) has issued a call for anyone who was victimised by or witness to crimes committed by sex offender Connor Hayes to come forward. This marks the fourth anniversary of the disappearance and death of teenager Gaia Pope, who made an allegation of rape against Hayes in December 2015. The case was quickly dropped by Dorset Police however Hayes, from Bournemouth, was subsequently imprisoned, released and imprisoned again for separate sex offences

Hayes made threats against Gaia’s life and repeated attempts to contact her. Gaia’s family say that the trauma this caused alongside the police failure to prosecute her case and fears other women and girls were at risk, was a crucial factor in the teenager’s health challenges, disappearance and death. 

Despite an explosion in sexual offence reporting, nationally less than 1 in 60 rape cases lead to criminal charges. Even in this context, Dorset Police has one of the worst charging rates in the UK. According to data obtained via a Freedom of Information request (1) from Justice for Gaia, of 2058 sexual offences recorded by the force 2019-2020, only 46 led to charges. 

CWJ therefore joins Justice for Gaia in raising concerns around Dorset Police’s record on sexual offences and gender-based violence. Last year a Dorset Police officer strangled a woman to death and 2015-2019 13 other officers were arrested for crimes including rape and assault, while another Dorset Police officer now faces gross misconduct charges related to the investigation into Sarah Everard’s murder. The force is also one of 17 where concerns have been raised about their failure to establish a rape and serious sexual offences unit. 

A full inquest into Gaia’s death will begin in Dorset in April 2022. Senior Dorset Coroner Rachael Griffin has said: “It is arguable that acts or omissions by Dorset Police may have been or were contributory to Gaia’s death. I am satisfied there has been an arguable breach of the obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

CWJ, a legal charity that holds the state accountable for violence against women and girls, are supporting the Justice for Gaia campaign and invites anyone who has been a victim or can provide useful evidence about Connor Hayes’ sexual offending to come forward. Please email us at info@centreforwomensjustice.org.uk providing reference to Connor Hayes. 

Harriet Wistrich, co-founder, Centre for Women’s Justice, says: “The process of reporting rape and supporting a police investigation can be extremely traumatic. Most women who report do so to prevent harm to others. When police fail, this can be devastating. I have no doubt Gaia’s deterioration in mental health was at least in part caused by her learning of the extent of police failures that allowed Hayes to continue to offend. CWJ are happy to assist the Justice for Gaia campaign in their search for justice and to raise awareness of the impact of criminal justice failings in the investigation of rape.”

Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Gaia’s cousin, says: “Like millions of women across the UK we have lost faith in the police so we are deeply grateful to the Centre for Women’s Justice for providing a safe alternative for people to come forward. Now is the time to speak out against abusers and police failures. If you have any information about Connor Hayes’ crimes, please speak up. There is no justice that can bring our darling Gaia back to us but we will not sit back while a whole generation is failed by those meant to protect us. It’s time to make a change.” 

(1) Freedom of Information request data is available upon request.

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