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 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.
We want justice for her death and for all survivors.
After reporting that she had been raped Gaia’s epilepsy deteriorated and she developed severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Our local Rape Crisis centre could only offer short-term counselling and Dorset Police dropped Gaia’s case against known sex offender Connor Hayes. She told us had he threatened to kill her – and us – if she spoke out. Months later he was imprisoned for another child sex offense but she lived in fear of his release.
In February 2017, after learning Hayes was up for early release, Gaia 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 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. She was in a state of extreme distress and confusion when she went missing.
We reported immediately 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. It was only thanks those volunteers that her body was finally found.
Though currently on hold due to Covid-19, we have won the right to a full inquest under Article 2 (Right to Life) of the European Convention of Human Rights, with a jury to examine the role of Dorset Police and healthcare services in Gaia’s death.
We want 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 the truth about what happened – and what needs to change to save lives like Gaia’s. The inquest into Gaia’s death is due to begin on 25 April 2022 and is expected to last at least ten weeks.
The world is a darker place without Gaia 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.
Take a moment to get to know Gaia – open justice journalist George Julian interviewed our family three years after Gaia’s death and produced a beautiful series of blog posts helping people get to know Gaia. Take a look.