18 October 2019

Press statement prepared by Justice for Gaia

  • On Thursday 16 October, Gaia's family learned that inquest proceedings will be postponed again. This is due to further delays in the IOPC's investigations into Dorset Police's handling of her rape allegation and later disappearance.
  • Deadlines for the IOPC investigation have been extended several times since May.
  • Recent figures reveal Dorset to have the worst conviction rate for rape in the UK, with 82 recorded rapes per conviction in Dorset last year.
  • The family have been granted no guarantee that the full findings of the IOPC will be made available to them prior to the inquest.

In response to press enquiries about the conclusion of IOPC investigations into the disappearance and death of Gaia Pope-Sutherland, which were expected last month, Gaia's family have issued the following statement:

"Every deadline the IOPC has given our family has been broken with little explanation, while decisions are made without us behind closed doors. Even the monthly updates we were promised, we have had to chase for. Now, less than four weeks before it was due to resume, we are told that the inquest will be postponed yet again. Even now, we have no guarantees that the answers we have long waited and suffered for will be given to us in full. 

7 November will mark the second anniversary of Gaia's disappearance. For almost two years we have been left, struggling to stay afloat in a sea of unanswered questions. 

Was Gaia's disappearance treated with the seriousness it deserved? Has third party involvement in her death been ruled out? Why did it take Dorset Police so long to find her? Why did they encourage her not to pursue the case against her rapist and remain so resistant to public assistance in the search for her when she was missing? 

These are questions no grieving family should ever be left with, while the answers may be sitting on someone's desk. Without them we live frozen, unable to grieve, unable to move forwards, unable even to begin. Justice delayed is justice denied.

That we should have to wait so long and fight so hard for answers about what happened to our darling girl, while the details are poured over by strangers, seems bizarre. However, we are not alone in this. 

Inquests and investigations following state related deaths are intended to seek the truth and to expose unsafe practices or potential abuses of power by state agents. This is not just about respect for those whose lives wrecked by unspeakable loss; it is about protecting the public by preventing future harm and deaths. 

We have always maintained that what happened to Gaia is a matter not just of our private grief but one of public concern. Under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, families have the right to meaningful participation in investigations. All too often this is not happening as it should. That is why families like ours, with support from the charity INQUEST, are campaigning to improve these systems. 

At present, we can only hope that a robust and unflinching investigation is taking place. With new statistics revealing the true scale of police failures to prosecute sexual violence and Dorset Police now rated worst in the UK, we are more determined than ever to see lessons learned from Gaia's case, survivors' access to justice improved and their voices heard.

In the meantime, we continue with the Art for Gaia project and our work to develop Gaia's Guide: a community organising guide, based on our experiences, to help keep missing people safe.

Our deepest thanks to INQUEST, our legal team at Birnberg Peirce, our social movement and civil society allies, our family, friends and local community for your unwavering support. 

Justice for Gaia."

ENDS

Notes to Editors

For more information contact Lucy McKay, INQUEST Policy and Communications Officer on 020 7263 1111 or email. And Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Justice for Gaia on [email protected]

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 via their website and via Facebook or Instagram and twitter @JusticeForGaia

INQUEST has been working with the family of Gaia since January 2018. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Sarah Kellas and Harriet Wistrich of Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, and Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers.

  • Gaia went missing on 7, November 2017 from Swanage, Dorset. Following a police investigation and a public search for Gaia in which thousands of people participated, her body was found 11 days after her disappearance. The coroner announced her cause of death as hypothermia in February 2017.
  • Gaia suffered from extreme Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms and deteriorating epilepsy following an incident of rape, which her family believe contributed to her death.
  • The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is currently conducting two investigations into Dorset Police: one into how they investigated the teenager's disappearance and a second into their investigation of her rape allegation. These investigations were scheduled to complete before the end of May 2019 and have been extended several times.
  • The Coroner for Dorset postponed the inquest until receipt of the IOPC's results on the grounds that this would inform their decision on whether to grant the family's request for an inquest under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act. 
  • Gaia's family are requesting an Article 2 inquest to ensure that the investigation has sufficient scope to conduct a thorough investigation into the actions not only of Dorset Police but also local mental healthcare providers which had Gaia under their care. 

Recent Media References

A story of death, trauma and austerity: Gaia's cousin Marienna Pope-Weidemann writes at length about her experiences with the mental health system. (Sept 2019)

Exclusive BBC News interview with Gaia’s twin sister Maya on the first anniversary of her disappearance. (Nov 2018)

Interview about #ArtForGaia with BBC Radio Solent. (Sept 2018)