Gaia Pope: Dorset teenager was ‘lost in fear and self-doubt’ before death

The family of Dorset teenager Gaia Pope has told an inquest jury that her mental and physical health deteriorated and she became “lost in fear and self-doubt” after she reported she had been raped at the age of 16.

Relatives revealed the “joyful” girl they knew slipped away at times after she told police about the alleged rape, which led to an investigation but no charge.

In a video played to the jury in Bournemouth, the family said: “After she shared that she had been raped, Gaia’s deteriorating physical and mental health changed her life. At times our girl would seem to disappear, lost in fear and self-doubt, but she fought bravely to return to us and her inner light always shone through the clouds.”

Pope, 19, who had epilepsy, vanished from Swanage in November 2017 and her body was found on a clifftop 11 days later.

The teenager was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after reporting she had been raped and was worried at the time of her disappearance that the man she accused – who was jailed on unrelated sexual offences – was about to be freed.

On the day she vanished, Pope had been due to make a formal complaint to police after being sent indecent images on social media.

The moving video and still images of Gaia and members of her family gave an insight into her story: “Gaia grew up in Dorset with her mum, Natasha, big sister Clara, twin sister Maya and cousin Marienna.

“Gaia loved her family and her home deeply. She was happiest out in the Purbeck nature her grandparents introduced her to, inspired by its beauty and wildlife to create art or cuddling up with her beloved cat, Bella, a rescue prone to scratching others but who let Gaia cradle her like a baby.

“Gaia was a force of nature and fiercely loyal to those she loved. Despite being bullied herself at school, or perhaps because of this, she was always ready to stand up for those who needed it. She was a shoulder to cry on and a friend to be relied on. With Gaia around there was never a dull moment or a quiet one. She had a joyful nature, a ready and radiant smile and filled our lives with song and laughter.”

Despite her decline, the portrait said she kept hold of her dreams, hoping for a big family and to host Christmases in a Dorset cottage surrounded by family and friends.

It added: “The challenges she faced as a young woman living with epilepsy and as a survivor of sexual violence inspired her to pursue a career in health and social care. Gaia had strong values and wanted to contribute to positive change for her community. This makes us so proud.”

The video includes Gaia and her twin, Maya, singing together in a bedroom with a banner pinned to a wall reading: “This mess is a room.” The portrait concluded: “Above all, we remember Gaia’s immense passion, compassion and creativity. We give thanks for every day we got to share with her. The world is a darker place without Gaia and she will be missed every minute of the rest of our lives.”

Video pen portraits are relatively new and have only been allowed on request at a handful of inquests. The charity Inquest, which is supporting members of Gaia’s family, is a big advocate for them as they allow relatives to show more of the person who has died.

The inquest continues.

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