BBC Report: anonymous police whistleblower reveals Gaia called police several times the day she disappeared

An anonymous police whistleblower known only as Officer X says that Gaia called Dorset Police several times on the day she vanished and that on at least one occasion they simply hung up on her. No records of these calls had been disclosed to us and have been kept secret from us for four years after Gaia’s death. We are deeply grateful for the courage and integrity of Officer X which could save lives in future and we call on others to speak up. 🌹

Manifesto

The Justice for Gaia manifesto, which puts forwards demands around policing, mental health and social support, was created because four years on from Gaia’s death things have gone from bad to worse and thanks to outdated policies, devastating funding cuts and an unchecked culture of toxic sexism, lives like Gaia’s are still being risked and lost. 

The manifesto emerged from us talking to leading womens’ rights organisations, mental health experts and disability rights campaigners about what needs to change to save lives like Gaia’s. 

Essentially we are demanding that survivors get the support they deserve and that their voices are heard so we can all live in safer and fairer communities. 

Most of these demands aren’t new but Gaia’s story gives them new urgency because it shows how devastating and deadly the consequences of the current system can be.

  1. The Istanbul Convention

The UK government must ratify the Istanbul Convention for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls which will save lives like Gaia’s in the future. This legal framework to prevent violence, protect survivors and prosecute perpetrators, was signed in 2012 but still hasn’t been implemented. It would improve education and prevent further cuts to survivor support services by enshrining survivors’ rights in law. Click here to sign and share the petition.

– Update: we won! Justice for Gaia played an active part in the IC Change Coalition’s success pressuring the government to announce the ratification of the convention in May 2022. The fight continues to make sure the government complies with the spirit in practice, not just on paper and that it protects all women, no exceptions.

  1. Public Debate

Meaningful public debate about state misogyny and the multi-agency failures ruining and threatening the lives of survivors like Gaia. 

  1. End NHS Demand Reduction

An end to “demand reduction” strategies which bring the police into mental health and criminalise those most in need of care and support. 

  1. Replace PIP

Replacement of the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) system with a just alternative co-designed with disabled peoples’ organisations. The current system has been linked to thousands of deaths and is extremely damaging to claimants’ mental health. 

  1. Establish a Rape Unit under Operation Soteria 

Dorset Police must overhaul its approach to prosecuting sex offences by establishing a specialist serious sexual offences (Rasso) unit and adopting the evidence-based approach of Operation Soteria which should be rolled out nationally to focus police on investigating perpetrators more than re-traumatising survivors. 

  1. VAWG Policing Framework

Dorset Police must develop and publish a comprehensive plan to implement the National Policing Framework for Violence Against Women (VAWG) from the National Police Chiefs’ Council. The framework helps target prolific perpetrators like Connor Hayes; supports a call-out culture for sexism and misogyny in the police; and improves processes for hearing concerns, particularly those who have been most ignored, such as Black and minoritised women and those critical of current police practises. You can read the blueprint here.

  1. Safeguard Our Community

An independent review of Dorset Police’s investigation and prosecution of Connor Hayes and his associates in order to safeguard our community and address any failures. 

  1. Safeguard Survivors in Hospital

A trauma-informed revision of local and national safeguarding policy for preventing and responding to sexual harassment and abuse in inpatient settings. 

  1. Independent Investigation of Mental Healthcare in Dorset

An independent investigation into the quality of care provided by Dorset Healthcare Trust with a focus on deaths under or soon after discharge from its care. Unexpected deaths of mental health patients in Dorset soared 50% in the three years before Gaia died.

  1. Funding Community Mental Health Support

Dorset Healthcare Trust to publish an update on how they are using additional funding provided under the NHS Long Term Plan to meet its obligation to improve personalised, trauma-informed care and access to psychological therapies for those experiencing severe mental distress.

  1. Answers About Gaia’s Care

A full and fearless assessment of the quality of care Gaia received and whether it contributed to her death.

  1. Answers About the Search for Gaia

A thorough explanation of why it took so long to find Gaia which addresses issues surrounding the initial risk assessment, interagency communication and other search issues. Appropriate action must be taken where procedures were not followed and action taken to make improvements where they fall short. 

  1. Accountability

Staff directly implicated in any failings in Gaia’s case must be referred to relevant regulatory bodies and appropriate action taken to provide accountability and ensure others are protected in the future. 

  1. Inclusion

Meaningful involvement for the family in all processes.

BREAKING NEWS: search officer “disciplined” as we call for wider change and mark 4 years 🌹🕯️🌹


🌹 Take action here
🌹 Catch up on the latest here

November 2021 marks 4 years since we lost Gaia. When we spoke out on 25th (World Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) about systemic failures in how the justice system engages with survivors, Dorset Police announced the “disciplining” of a Dorset Police officer involved in the search for Gaia, saying he had been given a “final written warning.”

The family was devastated to learn that these proceedings had taken place behind closed doors, denying us the right to be present, make eye contact, try and understand how things could have gone so wrong and perhaps to speak about the consequences, which left us with a lifetime of grief over an unspeakable loss that will never heal. We feel very let down. It’s another example of Dorset Police saying one thing and doing another.

#16days #16DaysOfActivism #16daysofActivism2021 #16DaysOfActivismAgainstGenderBasedViolence #OrangeTheWorld #JusticeForGaia #JusticeForAllOfUs

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.

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. 

Our statement outside court 🌹⚖️🌹 (Sep 2020)

At Gaia’s pre-inquest review hearing on 15 September 2020 we took two more important steps towards #JusticeForGaia and it’s the most we’ve been able to say so far about what happened to her. Here, Gaia’s twin sister Maya speaks alongside her cousin Marienna.

“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.”

Huge thanks to our amazing legal team for all their hard work, also INQUEST, Rape Crisis and Centre for Women’s Justice as well as all the friends who came today or found a way to show support online. (Please keep it coming, it keeps us going…)

Press release: we confirm the identity of sex offender Gaia accused of rape and call for other victims to come forwards

If you think you may have been a victim of Connor Hayes, you are invited to contact the family’s solicitor, Sarah Kellas, who can be reached via the civil rights law firm Birnberg Pierce on 02079110166.

For emotional support, the family recommend survivors call the Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999.

  • Connor Hayes, from Bournemouth, has been imprisoned, released and imprisoned again for separate sex offences since Gaia’s case was dropped by Dorset Police.
  • Gaia’s family say the Post-Traumatic Stress caused by this rape was “the crucial factor” in the 19 year old’s mental health challenges, disappearance and death.
  • Dorset Police has the worst conviction rate for rape in the UK, with 82 reports per conviction last year.
  • The inquest into Gaia’s death is on pause pending conclusions from two IOPC investigations: one into how Dorset Police handled her disappearance, another into their investigation of her rape allegation.

21 November: Gaia made an allegation of rape against Connor Hayes in December 2015, just over a year after her family say the rape occurred. Gaia then reported to Dorset Police, who said they had insufficient evidence to prosecute and discouraged the teenager from appealing their decision using the Victim’s Right of Review.

In a supporting statement, Gaia’s family say:

“We want to call on other survivors of abuse by Connor Hayes and his associates to come forward, either to Dorset Police or to our incredible solicitor, Sarah Kellas from the civil rights law firm Birnberg Pierce. 

Two years since Gaia she was taken from us, there are still countless unanswered questions, but what we do know is this. We know that Gaia reported she was drugged and raped by Connor Hayes. We know that she was denied justice and that this denial of justice, coupled with a denial of adequate mental health support, led to her death. We know that because of this, it is unlikely Gaia’s case can ever be prosecuted. 

But our idea of justice isn’t just about Gaia, it’s not even about Connor Hayes, it’s about about supporting survivors like Gaia the way they need and deserve to be supported. We want to do our part to keep women and girls safe in our community. We want those who may feel too let down by the system to report to the police to have somewhere else to go. We want support for survivors to improve in the South West and nationwide. We want rape taken seriously and the women who report it heard. We don’t want anyone else to go through the trauma Gaia had to go through or the devastating loss we live with every day.”

Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales says:

“Gaia’s story is a devastating reflection of how our criminal justice system and society too often fail victims and survivors of rape, sexual abuse and all forms of sexual violence. Her family’s tireless efforts to seek justice for her and others who’ve been subjected to these traumatic crimes is an inspiration.

We agree with them completely that those who’ve experienced sexual violence and abuse need and deserve social justice, in the form of properly resourced, specialist and independent support, counselling and advocacy services, as well as a properly functioning criminal justice system. This must be an urgent priority for the next government.”

Today, Gaia’s twin sister Maya and her older sister Clara Pope-Sutherland, alongside Gaia’s cousin Marienna Pope-Weidemann, gave interviews with BBC South Today and ITV Meridian. They called for others who may have been victimised by Connor Hayes, to come forward.

Though Gaia’s rape case was dropped by police, Hayes was later sentenced to two years in prison in December 2016, after admitting to taking an indecent moving image of a child, possession of indecent images of a child and paying for the sexual services of a child. Gaia’s family say Gaia was aware he would most likely serve just half that sentence and be due for release in the early part of 2018, a prospect which terrified her because she said Hayes had threatened to kill her and her family if she reported criminal wrongdoing on his part to the police.

Some time after Gaia’s death in November 2017, Hayes was released early, then imprisoned for a second time. This time, he was sentenced to 21 months in jail after pleading guilty to two counts of causing or inciting a child aged 13 to 15 to engage in sexual activity and causing a child aged 13 to 15 to watch a sexual act. On this occaision, he was sentenced alongside William Wright, the third man in his family to be convicted for similar offences. Connor Hayes was placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for 10 years and a previous Sexual Harm Prevention Order was extended to 2028 and amended to exclude him contacting girls aged under 16. The terms of this order are not known to the family.

Family members involved in the Justice for Gaia campaign say they have have good reason, beyond Gaia’s own testimony, to believe that many other women and girls may have been victimised by Hayes and/or his associates. The family says it will never release further information out of respect for the victims’ right to privacy.

Monday 18 November marked two years since Gaia was found dead following an 11 day disappearance and mass public search. During the anniversary of her disappearance (7-18 November) supporters and members of the public have lit candles in Gaia’s memory, some shared on social media with the hashtag #JusticeForGaia.

If you think you may have been a victim of Connor Hayes, you are invited to contact the family’s solicitor, Sarah Kellas, who can be reached via the civil rights law firm Birnberg Pierce on 02079110166.

For emotional support, the family recommend survivors call the Rape Crisis Helpline on 0808 802 9999.

The family also extend their deepest thanks to INQUEST, their legal team at Birnberg Peirce, civil society allies, friends, supporters and local community for their unwavering support.

Press Release: family appeal for information on anniversary of Gaia’s disappearance

Released 7th November via the INQUEST website

On the anniversary of her disappearance, Gaia’s family appeals to members of the public to come forward with any relevant information. The family is also convening an art project in her memory and to highlight the crisis in service provision for rape survivors and young people with mental ill health.

The inquest into Gaia’s death has been postponed until March 2018 while the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) probe Dorset Police’s response, both to her disappearance in November 2017 and her prior rape case. The family welcomed both investigations and look forward to the outcome.

Natasha Pope, Gaia’s mother, says: “This year has been more painful than words can say. Sometimes I can’t believe I have survived it, but with my every breath I love and demand justice for my daughter. Since the Me Too, we have seen a rising movement for the rights of women and girls. Change is coming.”

Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Gaia’s cousin, says: “When she was missing, it was the support and dedication from the public that kept us going. You gave us hope that we would find Gaia. A year after her death, we must call on you again to help us find justice for her. We can’t do this without you. If you know anything that might aid the investigation into Gaia’s rape case or the missing persons investigation and help us learn the truth, please come forward; not just for Gaia’s sake, but for the sake of anyone else who might be at risk.”

Harriet Wistrich, award-winning civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the Centre for Women’s Justice who is representing the family, says: “Nothing will dull the pain for those who loved her on the  first anniversary of Gaia’s death, but the Justice for Gaia campaign represents their hope that something good can come from this, shining a light on failures by the police and demanding better from the police in the investigation of crimes of sexual violence.”

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST, says: “Already one year on from Gaia’s disappearance, it is important that her family see a prompt and robust investigation. There has never been greater disquiet about victims of sexual violence being failed by statutory agencies. There is a clear link between the trauma of rape and mental ill health. The longer the delay in identifying any systemic failings, the greater the risk of more young women like Gaia dying.”

Emily Fields of Sisters Uncut says: “Gaia’s story shows the devastating impact that being poorly treated by the criminal justice system can have after sexual violence. Survivors need support not suspicion. That’s why we’re fighting data gathering policies that further traumatise those reporting abuse.”

Gaia’s family have organised #ArtForGaia, a creative project in Gaia’s memory, which is being followed by BBC News. With the inquest postponed, they say the project is a chance to show that Gaia won’t be forgotten – however long it takes – and create a forum for others affected by sexual violence and mental health issues to share their experiences through creative work. In addition, the family are appealing for artwork from Gaia’s friends and anyone who was involved in the search for her as well as the wider public.

People are being invited to photograph their work, submit it via the website and share it on twitter with the hashtag #ArtForGaia. Find out more at www.justiceforgaia.com/artforgaia

Gaia deserved a chance to see the world, to fall in love. That was taken from her – and we want justice, writes Gaia’s cousin Marienna for the Guardian

Today is the 365th day I’ve woken up with a hole in my chest where my heart used to be. The 11 days my cousin Gaia Pope was missing before her body was found felt like an out-of-body experience. We somehow lost the need to eat and sleep; nothing in the world mattered except bringing her home safe.

The community-led effort to find her was a grassroots miracle, filled with enough love and power to obscure that cold feeling in my gut and the whisper that said what we all already knew: she would never have left us.

The press often call her “tragic Gaia Pope”, which I hate not just because it does her no justice but also because her death was not tragedy; it was travesty.

Gaia was my cousin, but I loved her like a sister from the moment I first held her as a baby in my arms when I was seven years old. As a woman, she was let down by the services we all trust will be there for us in our hour of need. She fell through the cracks in the system and she died there.

First, she was let down by Dorset police when they chose not to prosecute for an alleged rape that took place when she was just 16. She is not alone in this: the prosecution and conviction rates for rape are worse now than they were 40 years ago.

The stigma and indignities she was subjected to as a survivor, along with the failure of the police to make her feel safe, drove her deep into post-traumatic stress. She received only a few weeks of crisis counselling from local mental health services, even though we, her family, felt that she needed a lot more. Meanwhile, her mother was being forced to leave her to work every night, just to keep a roof over their heads.

She is not alone in this, either: contrary to government rhetoric, mental health services have been decimated by austerity, none more than youth services. They receive just 7% of mental health funding even though 75% of mental health issues start young, and provision in Dorset, where my family is from, is particularly poor.

Eventually, her declining mental and physical health drove her first out of college and then work. Now it was the turn of the welfare system to relentlessly interrogate her trauma and undermine her sense of self-respect. She was forced to fight a lengthy battle for the personal independence payments (PIP) to which she was entitled.

Again, this isn’t just Gaia’s story: the PIP system has since been ruled “blatantly discriminatory” towards people with mental health issues and a great many people have died waiting for, fighting for or having given up on the support they deserve.

On 7 November last year, triggered, we believe, by an incident of sexual harassment online, Gaia passed the point of her endurance. With no phone, no cash, no coat and daylight fading, she simply disappeared. This was the last opportunity for the state to intervene and save her life. We begged them from the first moment to search for her along the coastal paths we had walked since childhood. “If she was out there, we’d have found her,” one police officer told me. It took 11 days for them to find her body there. By then it was too late.

One year on we know very little more than that. The postmortem said she was killed by hypothermia. I say it was a death by indifference. Gaia was a child soldier in a war that has cost more than 120,000 lives in Britain alone since 2010. She was fighting to survive and growing up poor in the age of austerity and that is a bloody, hard fight. She battled bravely for her rights but also for those around her; she never once let go of her humanity, her creativity, her determination to see the best in others. I am so profoundly proud of her for that.

Gaia deserved better. All of us do. She deserved the chance to fulfil her potential and give back to her community all the courage and compassion she had to offer. It’s not just her loved ones who have been robbed of someone precious, and our local community knows that.

Gaia deserved a chance to see the world, to fall in love, to have a family of her own. All that was taken from her – from us – and I want justice for that. But I also want justice for those left behind: the one in five women and girls who have endured sexual violence in this country; the 70% of young people with mental health challenges not receiving proper support; the countless families up and down the country who have been sacrificed on the altar of austerity; the lives not yet lost, precious, worth fighting for.

The world is a darker place without Gaia, but she still lights our way. We honour her memory when we fight for justice for her and for the better world that she believed in. In that sense, with support from and as part of a much wider movement for social justice, she will triumph yet.

One Year On…

We can’t believe it, but tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of Gaia’s disappearance. Her twin sister Maya has spoken on camera for the first time in an incredibly courageous interview for the BBC, which you can watch here.

In this extended radio interview, Clara and Maya speak about their grief, their hopes for the campaign and why Gaia would want justice for us all. We are so proud of them and we know Gaia is too.

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