We are a family fighting for answers about what happened to our girl, who went missing on 7 November 2017 when she was 19 years old. Eleven days later, her body was found. The coroner found she’d died of hypothermia. We call it a death by indifference.
Gaia was a beloved daughter, sister and friend. She was bright, brave, kind, creative and fiercely loyal to those she loved. She was passionate about science and nature and was a gifted artist. Gaia was the sort of child who, if someone was being bullied in the playground, would be right over there. She had strong values and believed in her own power to make a difference; that everyone could make a difference.
Gaia was also a survivor of sexual violence who was let down by the state. It was the lifechanging challenges she faced as a young woman living with epilepsy and as a survivor of sexual violence inspired her to pursue a career in health and social care. She wanted to dedicate her life to others and help transform a healthcare system she felt forgotten and neglected by.
We want justice for her death and for all survivors.
Gaia developed severe post-traumatic stress and worsening epilepsy after Dorset Police chose to take no further action over her report, that she had been raped by a known sex offender who threatened to kill her family if she spoke up. Months later, Hayes was imprisoned for another child sex offense but she lived in fear of his release.
Gaia was in and out of hospital as her mental health declined. She was repeatedly hospitalised and discharged without any long-term support plan in place and was even subjected to further sexual harassment in hospital where she should have been safe. No safeguarding referral was made for her and the whole episode was kept quiet.
On 7 November 2017, the day she disappeared, Gaia had two appointments: one with her GP to ask for mental health support and another with Dorset Police to report a further incident of sexual harassment online. Knowing Gaia would not be able to keep herself safe if she had a seizure or was having a mental health crisis, we immediately reported her disappearance to the police and called on our local community for help.
Gaia’s story made national headlines, hundreds of people joined the search and thousands more took action in an enormous grassroots effort to find her. We searched for eleven days, during which time we lost what little faith we ever had in the police.
We don’t want any more families forced to fight for someone who’s been taken from you and can never be replaced. That’s why we released Gaia’s Guide: a community organising guide to help keep missing people safe; why we continue to campaign; and why we need to know the truth about what happened – and what needs to change to save lives like Gaia’s.
Because the coroner agrees that there has been “an arguable breach of the obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights” (Gaia’s right to life,) we have won a full inquest with a jury to examine this question, which will begin on 26 April 2022. The inquest, which will be open to the public, comes more than four years after Gaia’s death and following three closed-door reports, two from the IOPC and one from the healthcare trust. Now, at last, time’s up.
Gaia’s family will be represented by a world class human rights legal team led by Doughty Street Chambers’ Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC who acted for the bereaved of the 7/7 London bombings and the Hillsborough Disaster alongside Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year 2018 and co-founder of the Centre for Women’s Justice, Harriet Wistrich from Birnberg Peirce.
The world is a darker place without Gaia but she is still a light in all our lives. We honour her by fighting for her rights and for the better world that she believed in and a Britain where all survivors are respected, protected and heard.