We are a family fighting for answers about what happened to our beloved Gaia, who went missing on 7 November 2017. Her body was found after eleven days that felt like forever. The coroner found she had died of hypothermia. We call it a death by indifference.
We want justice for her death and for all survivors denied access to justice by the police and to support by the mental health system.
Gaia was bright, brave, kind, creative and fiercely loyal to those she loved. The 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.
After reporting that she had been raped at the age of 16, Gaia’s life was transformed by severe post-traumatic stress and worsening epilepsy. While Dorset Police dropped Gaia’s case against known sex offender Connor Hayes, he was imprisoned for another child sex offense. She lived in fear of his release, she said, because he threatened to kill her and her family if she spoke out.
In February 2017, soon after she learned Hayes was up for early release, Gaia finally broke down and was hospitalised under the Mental Health Act. She should have been safe in hospital but instead she was subjected to further harassment there. No safeguarding referral was made for her and the whole episode was kept quiet. Soon she was discharged, again with no long-term support.
On 7 November, 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. Instead, Gaia disappeared.
We reported her missing immediately and by sunset, friends were travelling from far and wide to help us find her. 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. It was thanks to local volunteers that her body was finally found on a coastal path within a mile of where she was last seen. She was 19 years old.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has carried out two investigations into the conduct of Dorset Police: one looking at the failed rape case and another at their response to her disappearance. These reports will be amongst the evidence examined at the inquest into her death, which is due to take place in May 2021.
We fought for and have been granted a full inquest under Article 2 (Right to Life) of the European Convention of Human Rights, with a jury to examine the role of of Dorset Police and healthcare services in Gaia’s death.
We are determined to do all in our power to make sure your family never has to stand where we stand today, fighting for justice for someone who’s been taken from you and who can never be replaced. That’s why, to mark the third anniversary of her disappearance, in November 2020 released Gaia’s Guide: a community organising guide to help keep missing people safe.
Next, we need to know what happened – and what needs to change to save lives like Gaia’s.
The world is a darker place without her but she is still a light in all our lives. We honour her memory by fighting for her rights and for the better world that she believed in.