15 July 2022

This statement was read following the conclusion of the inquest into the death of Gaia Pope. For more information see the media release.

Let us begin by thanking everyone who did their absolute best for Gaia: to Her Majesty’s Coastguard, Dorset Search & Rescue and all the community volunteers who worked so hard to bring our girl home safe. We also want to thank our family and friends, including the Elsey family, who did nothing to deserve the nightmare they were put through.

Our deepest thanks, also, to everyone supporting our search for justice for Gaia: our amazing legal team; and our allies at the charities the Gemini Project, INQUEST, Rape Crisis and the Centre for Women’s Justice who do vital work to make stories like Gaia’s, history.

Finally, we thank the jury for their best efforts to give justice to Gaia. It is a shocking indictment of the inquest system that before the inquest even started so much of Gaia’s story was excluded and then later that the majority of evidence heard by the jury, including the police failures in the search, was taken off the table for them to consider at all. We remain concerned this was not the full and fearless investigation we were promised, and perhaps that is the single greatest opportunity, missed.

There are no words to express our grief, after one of the longest individual inquests in British history exposed multiple officers who still work for Dorset Police, secretly altered official search records and unearthed more than 50 missed opportunities in Gaia’s care and the search for her; failings by Dorset Police, Dorset Council and Dorset Healthcare Trust.

When we were dealing with these institutions, it never felt like they understood a precious human life was at stake. But when it comes to these services lives are often at stake and that makes these matters not just of private grief but of public concern.

A few missed opportunities might be human error; this many are not. This many can only be seen as the wreckage left by a perfect storm of unchecked misogyny and a decade of austerity cuts, which have brought our public services to their knees and been linked to over 100,000 preventable deaths in the UK.

Gaia was many things. A beloved daughter, sister and friend. Bright, brave, kind, creative and fiercely loyal to those she loved. She was funny and insightful, passionate and principled. We have always been and will always be very proud of her.

Gaia was also a survivor of child sexual exploitation who was badly failed by the state. It is because so many are, that her story speaks to people across the UK, a country where less than 1% of rape reports end in conviction and there are over 10,000 survivors on the wait list for counselling.

There has been a lot of talk about the complexity of Gaia’s case, the complexity of her needs but the truth is Gaia’s needs were not that complicated. They were basic. She needed to be treated with kindness, respect and dignity. She needed professionals to take the time to listen to her and her family and each other. She needed trauma-informed support and advocacy as she pursued justice and tried to rebuild her life after rape. She needed to be protected and she needed to be heard.

This is not much to ask for and if she had received it we believe she would be alive today.

Gaia died two years after reporting the rape and despite repeated mental health crises and hospitalisations, in that time she spent less than 30 days under the care of community mental health services.

They dismissed her so-called “delusions of sexual assault,” we believe they covered it up when she was sexually harassed at St Ann’s hospital and they repeatedly discharged her without a proper care plan. To quote the psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey who assessed Gaia in October 2017, they “had to clear the decks.”

When just a fortnight later, Gaia received indecent images from a stranger on Facebook,  . The day she disappeared, she was meant to have an appointment with them but they could find no record of it.

Without the anonymous police whistleblower who spoke out about Gaia’s calls that day, we wouldn’t even know why she went missing, what made this crisis different from the ones that came before.

What we do know is that PC Lawrence, who spoke with Gaia on that day, failed in his ignorance to recognise a young woman in an acute mental health crisis who needed help. What’s worse, he discriminated against her.

He said had no concern for her welfare. He assumed she was making things up. He told colleagues we were “talking absolute rubbish,” that no more calls from the family should be transferred and finally, shortly before she disappeared, he hung up on her. That he has not even been disciplined tells you everything you need to know about the ‘culture change’ within Dorset Police.

For two years, they did nothing but fail Gaia. They failed to prosecute her rapist. They failed to treat her with respect. They failed, as did Dorset Healthcare, to take safeguarding action or offer support with continuing harassment from the known child sex offender she had reported for rape and threats to kill.

Gaia’s story epitomises all that is wrong with British policing and cuts to the heart of why public confidence has never been so low.

This is not just Gaia’s story. While the number of sex offenses reported to Dorset Police has doubled in the past ten years, charges have halved and that is why we are launching a campaign for Dorset Police to invest in a Rape & Serious Sexual Offenses Unit of officers who are trained to investigate properly and protect people like Gaia.

She deserved better. All of us do. And in failing Gaia they failed more than just our family, because this now a world without Gaia in it and that makes it a darker place.

We miss her every minute and there can be no justice for a loss like this but we know how proud Gaia would be of what we have achieved here, having argued successfully for the coroner’s unprecedented decision to issue numerous vital Prevention of Future Deaths reports that challenge the underpinnings of austerity and misogyny at a local and national level.

These include a report to the CEO of the College of Policing about national training on epilepsy, Post Traumatic Stress and supporting those with sexual trauma; a report will be made to the CEO of Dorset Healthcare Trust across several issues, including policies on how staff deal with incidents of sexual harassment as well as communication with patients’ families and carers; and a report to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on resourcing and communication between epilepsy and mental health teams to improve holistic care.

We hope that this leads to real change not just in Dorset but throughout the country, and will save future lives.

However, there is a lot more work to be done. What we do demand, is justice for those left behind: the 1 in 4 women and girls subjected to sexual violence; the 7 in 10 young people who need mental health support and are not getting it; the countless families in this country breaking under the weight of the impossible task of filling in for public services trashed by a negligent government. All the lives not yet lost, precious and worth fighting for. 

If it takes a lifetime, it will be a lifetime well spent because Gaia is worth that and so are all of you. Thank you.