Three years ago tomorrow, on 7 November 2017, Gaia Pope-Sutherland went missing from Swanage. Investigations into what happened at that time continue, and Gaia’s inquest has been delayed, partly due to coronavirus, and is due to take place in May 2021.
In September I live-tweeted the second pre-inquest review hearing from Bournemouth Coroner’s Court. You can read the tweets here and my write up here. I first spoke to Gaia’s cousin, Marienna, two years ago. We talked on Skype for quite a while about campaigning, and how to engage people in what we knew would be a long drawn out search for answers led by her family.
I agreed to help if I could, to share learning picked up from JusticeforLB and supporting other families since. I was clear that what I could offer was anecdotal, indeed Marienna is herself a campaigner and communications professional, I doubted there was much (possibly anything) that I could share that she didn’t already know herself. We decided that the best way forward was to start with an idea of who Gaia was. I sent Marienna off with some questions and she was to talk to her cousin’s (Gaia’s twin sister Maya and older sister Clara).
Fast forward almost 18 months and those questions had become an impossible ask. It was too much, too triggering, too difficult. With hindsight it was maybe an unrealistic request on my behalf. Talking to Marienna she explained that having the conversation in the first place as a family was too triggering, just too painful. Marienna expressed how ‘even the memories feel stolen, hard to access’, they sit hand in glove with the trauma, even remembering the good times brings the trauma into sharp focus.
Traumatic loss is exactly that, traumatic.
This summer I skyped with Marienna again and discussed the upcoming pre-inquest review hearing (PIR) which I intended to try and attend to live-tweet. Attendance was partly for my own benefit, there’s nothing like seeing advocates in action to get an idea of the lay of the land, and I wanted to see the Coroner’s approach (pleasantly surprised) and I felt like it would be the best way to get an understanding of where things were at.
After that PIR I was introduced to Gaia’s mum, Kim, in the car park of the Coroner’s Court after the family had addressed the media. Kim is tall and upright, beautiful, her eyes red with tears and a little glassy, she thanked me for coming and starts to talk about Gaia. Her voice dropped and trailed off as she said ‘She was my everything’. Marienna, her niece, gently bumps her with her hip and say’s ‘Not everything’. This interaction was so intimate, despite the setting, Marienna wasn’t chastising Kim, or disagreeing, it appeared to be a gentle reminder that there’s still more, and others, to live for, in the here and now, like she was trying to bring Kim back to the present.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my #OpenJustice work, it’s that no matter how thorough an inquest, or how good a legal team it’s simply not possible to cover everything a family may wish, and to get all the answers they’re seeking, or draw attention to all the issues that matter to them through the inquest process. So, Gaia’s family, like many others, continue to campaign, to highlight failings, to try and hold people to account and to situate Gaia’s life and death within wider failings in society. All of this is driven by love, wanting to protect others and wanting to do right by Gaia.
It’s now three years since Gaia disappeared. Unsurprisingly, each year the period of time when she was missing, leading up to when her body was found, eleven days later, is an extremely difficult and distressing time for her family and friends.
Gaia’s situation is a little different to others I tend to be involved with or reporting on, because her disappearance was so public. Most of us first got to hear of Gaia while she was missing. There was a phenomenal local response of volunteers coming together wanting to help search for her. There was a lot of media coverage, I remember seeing Gaia’s face on the news, and feeling a deep dread in the pit of my stomach imagining what was likely to have happened. What I was aware of, then and since, was I didn’t really have any sense of who Gaia was, only of little snippets reported in the media.
I volunteered to introduce Gaia to the world a little during that period, this year. My plan is to share a post each day for the next eleven, to help us all get to know Gaia. During October I had the privilege of speaking to Gaia’s close family members, to her Mum and Aunt, Kim and Talia, and to her older sister Clara and her twin sister Maya. I just asked them to tell me about Gaia, just the good stuff, before things went wrong.
I made notes during our conversations, and then went back and organised them thematically, pulling out the commonalities and overlaps in how they described and talked about Gaia. I hope I can do them justice in recounting some of what they shared and give you all a chance to get to know more of who Gaia was. Any errors are of course mine.
Please make a little time to learn more about the family’s campaign for justice and show them that you’re supporting them. You can visit their website JusticeforGaia and follow them on twitter here. I’ll be back tomorrow with my first post about Gaia.
Postscript I’ve included a link to each post below as they’ve been published: