10:43 BST Thursday 5th July 2018
Today the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) have announced a new investigation into how Dorset Police handled the rape case brought by Gaia Pope two years before her death in November 2017. This will run parallel with the IOPC investigation into how Dorset Police handled the teenager’s disappearance.
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.
Gaia’s family welcome the decision, highlighting the profound impact that the rape and failed investigation had on Gaia, who developed symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after she became aware that a number of other women and girls had made similar allegations against the same perpetrator.
When the police made a decision to take no further action in respect of her allegations she became disturbed by the fear that these allegations suggested a pattern of young or vulnerable women being targeted and groomed.
Gaia believed a more effective investigation may have secured a longer prison sentence, identifying other perpetrators and protecting potential victims.
Natasha Pope, Gaia’s mother : “There is no doubt in my mind: this is what drove Gaia up the hill that night. I am relieved that at last, it will be properly investigated and I am resolved to see positive change. It was not her intention but in a way, my daughter gave her life to shine a light on all this.”
Maya Pope-Sutherland, Gaia’s sister : “It feels like we’ve been screaming in a vacuum for a long time but now we will break the silence. I hope our search for answers can open the door to positive change and help other survivors be heard and get justice. It’s what Gaia would have wanted.”
Clara Pope-Sutherland, Gaia’s sister : “Survivors of sexual violence deserve to be heard, supported and protected. Gaia will be more than another statistic to show that’s not the case. Hand in hand, she leads the way with all survivors. We are grateful to the IOPC for recognising the need to investigate. We hope it will begin to give Gaia the voice she so deserved when she was alive.”
Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Gaia’s cousin : “Access to justice and to recovery has become a privilege reserved for those who can afford it. Gaia fell through the cracks in that system and she died there. Some nights I can’t sleep, can’t breathe, I miss her so much. We all do. But then the sun comes up and it feels like fighting for her rights is all that matters, even now. Especially now.”
Richard Sutherland, Gaia’s father : “We need to know if more could have been done to make Gaia feel safe and protect the public. Nothing can bring her back to us but a thorough, transparent and unbiased investigation will help us move forwards. We need to know the truth.”
Harriet Wistrich, of Birnberg Peirce, who is representing the family : “Gaia’s death illustrates the severe mental health impact, not only of sexual violence but also of investigative failures by the police. Representing victims in the Worboys’ case informs me that where victims are aware they may have been one of many targeted by their perpetrator, a sense of responsibility for preventing further harm can weigh heavily. But ultimately, it is the responsibility of the police, not victims, to protect women from dangerous sex offenders.”
Deborah Coles, executive director of INQUEST : ”There is a clear link between the trauma of rape and mental ill-health. Despite this, too many victims of sexual violence are failed by statutory agencies. It is tragic that it took Gaia’s death for the response of the police to be scrutinised. We hope this investigation will deliver truth for this family, and help to bring about changes that are so urgently needed.”