Wednesday, 6 July 2022
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Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Final inquest hearing into death of Dorset teenager Gaia Pope to open

GAIA Kima Pope-Sutherland, 19, was reported missing on 7 November 2017 in Swanage, Dorset. Following a police investigation and a public search for Gaia in which thousands of people participated, her body was found 11 days later less than a mile from where she was last seen.

Gaia had a history of mental ill-health and was a survivor of rape. Her family have concerns about the response of relevant authorities to this, as well as the police response to her subsequently going missing.

Over four years later, following various investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct and others, the final hearing of the inquest into her death will open on Tuesday 26 April 2022 before HM Senior Coroner Rachael Griffin and a jury. This will follow a final pre-inquest review hearing the day before.

Over the following months of evidence, the inquest will examine issues surrounding Gaia’s death including:

  • Gaia’s personal and medical history
  • Gaia’s epilepsy treatment and management
  • The impact of the rape allegation on Gaia from 2015 onwards
  • Gaia’s mental health treatment from 2015 onwards
  • The events of 7-18 November 2017 to cover Gaia’s disappearance and the search up to and including the discovery of her body, with a focus on 7-11 November when she could possibly have been alive
  • Dorset police control room operations
  • The actions of Dorset Police officers and control room staff including the evaluation of risk
  • Training in relation to missing persons within Dorset Police

The inquest will also consider the missing persons’ policy, procedure and operations, as well as the response of Dorset Search & Rescue (DORSAR) and Coast Guard, and the memorandum of understanding between them and the police.

As well as examining the missing persons investigation, the coroner and jury will hear evidence from Gaia’s family and professionals involved in her care, and from expert witnesses on mental health and epilepsy.

Gaia’s family describe her as a bright, brave, kind, creative and loving. The challenges she faced as a young woman living with epilepsy and as a survivor of sexual violence had inspired her to pursue a career in health and social care.

In a joint statement, the family of Gaia Pope said:

“For four years we have been left with questions no grieving family should ever have to ask. Our hearts are shattered to have Gaia taken from us in this way, before she ever got the chance to step beyond the shadow of what was done to her.

“There are no words for that kind of loss, particularly not when we hear from so many other survivors that they are still denied access to justice and support.

“We need to know if more could have been done to protect Gaia and so does our community, who worked so tirelessly to find her. These are matters not just of our private grief, but of public concern.

“We hope the inquest will give Gaia the voice she so deserved in life and help save the lives of others in the future. As painful as it is for us, it’s worth it if it leads to the positive change she wanted.”

Sarah Kellas, of Birnberg Peirce solicitors who represent the family, said:

“Gaia’s family have waited four long years for this inquest to take place. It is hoped that they will now get the answers they so desperately need, and effect real change for the future.”

Deborah Coles, Director of the charity INQUEST, said:

“Gaia’s death raises serious questions about the response of authorities to women in crisis, which go far beyond her local area. We hope this inquest will deliver truth for this family, and inform change to prevent future deaths and harms against women.”

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