Dorset teenager Gaia Pope was ‘anxious’ before death, inquest hears

A teenager whose body was found on a Dorset clifftop after an 11-day search had been anxious about the imminent release from jail of a man she told police had raped her when she was 16, an inquest jury has heard.

Gaia Pope was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the alleged rape and was worried that the man she had accused was about to be freed. On the day she vanished, Pope, 19, from Swanage, had been due to make a formal complaint to police after being sent indecent images on social media.

The jury in Bournemouth was told that Pope, a student, had been in the care of mental health professionals at a local NHS trust after the alleged rape, but was discharged to her GP a month before her death.

Rachael Griffin, the senior coroner for Dorset, said that the impact of the alleged rape, her medical care, the way the search for her was conducted and her cause of death would be examined during the 11-week inquest.

Griffin told the jury: “In December 2015, she disclosed to family she had been raped the previous year when she was 16. She reported it to police, the alleged perpetrator denied the allegation.

“He was not charged or convicted of any offence relating to Gaia. Approximately a year later he was convicted of other sexual offences relating to other victims. The alleged perpetrator was due to be released in autumn 2017. At the time of her disappearance, Gaia was anxious about his imminent release.”

Griffin told the inquest jury that it was not relevant for them to hear about the precise circumstances of the alleged rape or about the decision not to charge.

“However it is relevant for you to hear about how upset Gaia was about the decision not to charge him and the impact of his imminent release on Gaia’s mental health,” she said.

The jury heard that from 2015 to 2017, Pope underwent mental health assessments and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2016. On 22 October 2017, she was discharged from Dorset Healthcare University NHS foundation trust back to the care of her GP.

On 2 November 2017, she reported to police that she had been sent indecent images on social media and was due to meet with police officers to make a formal complaint and statement on 7 November.

She was at an aunt’s house that day but seemed “unsettled” and ran away at 3.40pm. The relative contacted police at 3.42pm, telling them Pope was having “some sort of episode” and expressed concerns for Gaia’s welfare. The last known sighting of her alive was captured by a CCTV camera in Swanage just before 4pm.

The search for Gaia included the police, coastguard, the National Police Air Service and volunteers from Dorset Search & Rescue. Her body was finally found in undergrowth on a clifftop near Swanage on 18 November.

In a statement issued before the hearing began, the family said: “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.”

The inquest continues.

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