6 April 2018

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) today announce their investigation into the actions of Dorset police following the disappearance of Gaia Pope, who was 19 years old.

Gaia was reported missing on 7 November 2017 in Swanage, Dorset by a family member. Her family communicated their concern for the missing teenager, who had Post Traumatic Stress disorder, following a serious sexual assault when she was 17. Gaia had epilepsy and did not have her medication when she went missing.

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 within a mile of where she was last seen.

In the months before her death she was increasingly afraid that the man who raped her and threatened her family would soon be eligible for early release. In addition to concerns about the conduct of the police, the family have questions about whether a lack of support from underfunded mental health and social services contributed to Gaia’s death.

A Pre-Inquest Review is scheduled for Monday 14 May, 10 am at Dorset coroners court.

Natasha Pope, mother of Gaia said: “My daughter should still be with us today. She was a survivor. She had a sharp wit, she was intelligent, compassionate and so courageous; she was magnificent. Gaia was inspired by the challenges she faced to work in health and social care and dedicate her life to others. She tried to carry on her education but her epilepsy was deteriorating as she remembered more about the sexual assault she had endured. In hospital she would speak about what she’d been through but it felt like no one outside our family wanted to listen. Now, our family has been torn apart. As a mother my heart will always be broken. As a woman, I’m determined to do all we can to make sure this never happens again. I will always be proud of Gaia’s courage but what she went through should not have cost my daughter her life.”

Clara Pope-Sutherland, sister of Gaia, said: “Gaia is a strong, fiery and beautiful spirit who always gave voice to what is right. In life, the systems that are meant to support people who’ve experienced sexual violence and mental health issues, undermined her and left her voiceless. But now she will be heard and things will change for the better in her name.”

Marienna Pope-Weidemann, cousin of Gaia & volunteer search coordinator, said: “When Gaia was missing we didn’t want anything to distract from the search, so we said nothing about how our family was treated by the police and how poorly they coordinated the incredible search effort by the community. But now we have to ask the tough questions: why did it take eleven days to find her? Could she have been saved? Could proper support from mental health and social services have stopped this whole tragedy before it started? This isn’t just about Gaia. How many women and girls have gone through this whose stories never make the papers? Gaia wanted justice for them and so do we. Time’s up.”

Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST said: “There are serious questions about the actions of Dorset police and their duty of care that this investigation must address.  Gaia was a vulnerable young woman, due to the trauma and mental and physical ill health she was experiencing as a victim of sexual assault. How her life could end this way deserves the utmost scrutiny. This family and the public need answers in the hope of preventing another young life lost.”

Sarah Kellas, solicitor for the family said: “It is hoped the IOPC investigation will be the start of the process by which the family can begin to pursue answers to their questions about failures in the police response and that this will feed into a full and fearless inquest exploring all the significant circumstances surrounding Gaia’s death.  Nothing can take away the pain of this tragedy, but truth and accountability will assist the grieving process.”



For further information, please contact Lucy McKay on 020 7263 1111 or [email protected]

INQUEST has been working with the family of Gaia Pope 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.

Follow Gaia’s family campaign for justice on their social media pages: Twitter @JusticeForGaia or Facebook.

Prior Press Coverage: