Day 10 Gaia Pope Sutherland’s inquest

Today, the tenth day of Gaia’s inquest, the whole day was spent hearing evidence from her aunt, Talia Pope. Her evidence will be finished tomorrow morning, but as I’m unfortunately not available to hear it, I thought I’d blog now.

The coroner took Talia through her evidence, and she also played a number of recordings to the jury of call’s that Talia made to the Police in the days running up to when Gaia went missing, and on the day that she disappeared.

Talia was asked if there was anything she wished to add to the evidence that Clara had given to the court yesterday about various matters including Gaia’s epilepsy and mental health. Talia described the impact of the rape on Gaia, and the subsequent deterioration in her health:

Following what she went through in terms of the rape, it [Gaia’s epilepsy] did become more unpredictable and I did witness Gaia’s flashbacks, which were very distressing for her, and anybody who loved her, seeing her go through that.

She had very… anxiety… would just fall to the ground sometimes, just in agony, mental and physical agony.

She didn’t have any control over the recollections, they would just happen.

The coroner acknowledged how difficult it must have been for Gaia and her family, acknowledging that they were very close as a family. Talia agreed, and responded:

Yes, we were, and it was horrible to think she couldn’t be protected in some way from such a horrible thing occurring. As you know it started through social media, through Facebook, this connection was made.

I think it’s true to say all young people at some level or another need validation, it’s valuable to them.

She told the jury that was how Gaia met the perpetrator:

I suppose the term is groomed online. I think it could happen to anybody’s daughter, certainly that part of it.

She described how following Gaia’s assault she felt what Gaia needed most of all, was active listening:

I have always very, very strongly and passionately felt what she needed was active listening to, about the rape. Because she had found the courage within herself to report it, with her cousin at her side, which was a massive thing to do.

She described the counselling that Gaia received via Rape Crisis as:

 …the only light in Gaia’s whole life at that time… I remember that she was very happy to go along to those sessions, she was feeling a benefit from those sessions.

That was an enormous relief to me as I’ve always said she needed active listening to about the rape. She was always talking about it, and sometimes all she wanted to talk about because she needed to get it, she needed to articulate what had happened.

I felt that was key to releasing the build up of inner pressure that she was experiencing, that worried me a lot because I didn’t know where it was leading, I could see it was dragging her health down, and down, I was very alarmed by that and just wanted something to happen, some intervention to turn that about.

She was an engaging person and she could be very communicative, but the fact that she was not feeling that she was getting the attention she needed to spill out the trauma, was very worrying for me as her auntie.

And my whole ambition if you like, and that’s not too strong a word to say ambition, on and prior to the 7th was to facilitate an opportunity for my niece to be listened to, actively, by a policeman, or woman.

Talia told the jury that when Gaia was admitted to hospital in October 2017, that Gaia similarly needed to be heard:

I arrived at the house and Gaia was very hyper, she was talking incessantly about the rape, she wanted the police to understand that she’d been raped.

Gaia’s mum had stayed behind to pack some things for Gaia, and Talia travelled with Gaia and the two police officers to Poole General Hospital, arriving as the court were told on Days 6 and 7 shortly after midnight on Saturday 21 October 2017.

Gaia was still in a heightened state of anxiety, talking very fast about the assault. She was pacing up and down in reception, because she wanted to get the attention of one of the medics, just to listen to her.

It was a very sad picture because they all had their heads down looking at their paperwork, using their pens and people were coming in and going out, and basically she was very articulate, comprehensive, very high anxiety and very distressed with the rape at the forefront of her mind.

I think there may have been seizure activity going on as well.

…she was trying very, very hard to get somebody to just listen to what she wanted them to hear. In my perception ma’am she needed them to hear, which in my perception was very key to helping that inner pressure begin to come down.

Once Gaia’s mother arrived, Talia went home as she had to work early the next day. When asked by the coroner whether she was surprised that Gaia was discharged the next day she told the court:

I was concerned by it because I’d obviously been with her and seen her in that high anxiety, and all her recollections around the rape.

Yes I was very worried about that building pressure. I think Clara described it as a ticking timebomb didn’t she.

A week or so after Gaia left hospital following the mental health assessment, she was sent indecent images by a man online. Talia described how Gaia was triggered by this:

Her anxiety soared, she was absolutely obsessed with being actively listened to about the images and making a formal report about them.

When asked whether she felt Gaia needed to have contact with a medic, the GP or mental health services, or hospital, at that point Talia responded that she felt Gaia needed listening to. She described how diazepam had helped calm Gaia down “I’m afraid it just masked this anxiety, the anxiety would always come back, so it was never a solution”.

The jury were played two calls that Gaia made to the police to report that event. The Coroner acknowledged how difficult it would be for members of Gaia’s family to hear Gaia’s voice/calls, while also pointing out that it brings Gaia very much into the inquest hearing. She explained to the jury that they’d be given transcripts of the calls at a later date if necessary but today she just wanted them to listen to what was said.

The first call Gaia made to Dorset Police on 2 November 2017 at 15:56 and the second is a follow on from that on 2 November at 16:05. In those calls we heard Gaia explain to the call handler that it wasn’t an emergency, but that she was 19 and used Facebook, and someone who was friends with a number of her friends, who she thought she might have met at a party, had added her.

She explained how she has quite strict security settings since she was sexually assaulted, but she accepted his request and they were talking on messenger. She tells the call handler:

He started trying to flirt with me and I tried to keep it light and jokey and then he started talking about sending me a nude picture.

Gaia explains that she told the man she was not sexually attracted to him and she explicitly said that she did not want to receive any photographs from this man:

I asked him not to send me a nude photo, he immediately sent me a picture of his penis… I said do not send me another one and he sent another one with his face in.

Gaia goes on to recall that he also asked her about fetishes and she was not comfortable with the conversation. She’d contacted one of her friends who was a mutual connection of his on Facebook and following that conversation she became more concerned about this man.

We heard the call handler creating an incident log. She told Gaia that she would try to get someone out to see her, but that she couldn’t guarantee it would be that day. She asked her to keep the evidence, Gaia had explained in the call she’d taken screengrabs so she could report it to the police. She also was concerned about the police coming to her mother’s home, in case she upset others at home, so she suggested that she meet them at her aunt, Talia’s, house. The handler agreed that officers would call Gaia to give her time to walk to her auntie’s in time to speak to them. She gave Gaia a reference number.

Gaia also suggested that she gave the call handler her mum’s number, explaining that she has epilepsy so might be asleep. Gaia was incredibly articulate, but clearly anxious and agitated on these calls. She was considerate of others and clearly concerned about the impact this man might potentially have on others, especially young people.

The third call from Gaia played to the jury was from the next day, 3 November at 21:27. Gaia explains how she hadn’t been able to make it to the police station that day as she’d had an epileptic seizure and she couldn’t speak for an hour. She isn’t able to attend at the weekend or Monday as her mum was working, but she offers to go in on Tuesday, which was her mum’s day off. We hear the call handler confirm “I’ll put this to Tuesday so you can pop into the station and speak to an officer on Tuesday”.

Talia spoke with Gaia, and she was so concerned about her levels of anxiety that she offered to make Gaia a GP appointment, to seek referral to talk to someone. Gaia agreed and this appointment was booked for 5pm on Tuesday 7 November 2017.

She described Gaia as “very deeply troubled” and overwhelmed:

She’d lose connection with her immediate environment and any tasks she’d meant to be doing… whatever it was, it just completely took over her life and I witnessed it far too many times, so it became my ambition to get her some attention…

It really could have been anybody taking her seriously and registering the impact of what happened to her.  She felt it was very, very serious and no one had registered the seriousness of what happened to her.

Talia contacted the police on 6 November to try and ascertain the name of the officer who they should speak to the next day, and what time. She knew they were due to speak to someone at Wareham Police Station. The coroner told the jury that there were three calls from Talia to Dorset Police on Monday 6 November, one of these was played to the court. Talia was unsuccessful in getting a name or time.

The court then heard a number of calls that Talia made on Tuesday 7 November, when Gaia was due to speak to a police officer at Wareham Police Station.

The first call Talia made at 09:16. She explained why she was calling and she was placed on hold while the call handler contacted PC Lee Lawrence, a police officer at Wareham Police Station. The officer said he had “no idea what you are on about”.

The call handler explained to Talia that the officer had said he didn’t know anything about it, Talia impressed upon her how urgent the matter was “it’s very urgent, it’s very important for my niece, she is a rape survivor… had conversation with someone at Wareham”.

Next the call handler tried another number at Wareham Police Station; that officer searched his system for Gaia Hope and couldn’t find anything in the system [because he was searching for the wrong name]. He asked the call handler if she knew what the call was about, she explained that Talia had said Gaia had been raped previously and was going through counselling “so I assume it’s something to do with that”. At this point the suggestion was that was a matter for CID at Weymouth.

The second officer went away to speak to someone else and figured out who Gaia was, and the officer responsible for her case. He requested the call handler relay the information to Talia, and said the female police officer would contact them later that day. The call handler checked Gaia’s availability and Talia attempted to impress upon her how urgent the matter was, saying that she could bring her in at any time that day. When asked if there was any other time she was available she replied:

No not really because I’m her transport. She’s not well at the moment, this has caused a relapse… it’s probably no bad thing for the police to see how unwell she is… it’s best for this to be done quickly.

The coroner asked whether Gaia had become more unwell from the previous day and Talia explained that her sister, Gaia’s mother, had told her that she wasn’t well at all.

After the call she made first thing Talia drove to Bournemouth, to her brother’s house where Gaia was staying.

Coroner: in your statement you explain at this time Gaia presented in a very anxious way, you talk about her pacing around and you say she refused to eat?

TP: She intended to do lot of things, one was have breakfast, a smoothie… to get packed… she mentioned wanting to have her CBT oil on toast… a smoke in the garden, but this morning Gaia didn’t follow through on any of these things at all.

She was in, I’ve heard the medics describe as chaotic, I said distracted, but meant the same thing. She’d set off to do a task but forget what she was going to do, whether it was brush her teeth or whatever it was. She’d try to follow through, but then change tack, and wouldn’t be a result.

So somehow we had to help Gaia to collect herself, and get her ready to come back with me. It took a long time, I was very concerned she had nothing in her stomach, she needed for meds to work properly, she was very high anxiety

Coroner: in respect of her presentation that day, had she changed from when you last had contact with her?

TP: she was worse, much worse…. she was having a lot of internal anxieties. On the previous time when I met her at her own home to go to hospital she was preoccupied with the trauma she’d been through, and wanted active listening, wanted people to listen to the facts what happened to her. On this morning she seemed very internalised.

Coroner: Internalised. What do you mean by internalised?

TP: It was difficult to get her attention, was difficult to get eye to eye contact. She seemed to be recalling things, possibly related to the experience she’d been through and the rape. So she was expressing those anxieties relating to possible pregnancy, damage to her reproductive system. That sort of thing. Yes, it was difficult to, anything practical was very much on the periphery of her awareness it seemed to me.

Gaia’s mother and her uncle had to go to London and so Talia was keeping Gaia company that day, looking after her, and intent on ensuring that she got to speak to the police, and her GP.

To that end Talia made five calls to Dorset Police between 11:12 and 12:09 on the morning of 7 November, from her brother’s home.

I’d been given a thread and I didn’t want to let go of that thread, it was a lifeline really…

I held onto anything I’d been given…

I tried to be calm, because I wanted to be clear

The coroner explained some of those calls were follow on calls where Talia had been connected through to other people. The court heard the calls, on one made at 11:30am it was possible to hear the call handler laughing with PC Lee Lawrence. She says that she has Talia on the line and he responds:

Oh right, yeh, this is the fourth time I’ve spoken to her today, I have no idea what she’s on about. Put her through and I’ll try and help her.

When asked by the coroner if she spoke to Lee Lawrence, whether she was put through, Talia didn’t remember. The coroner asked if she remembered being told to come in at 3pm and Talia explained that she was worried that it wasn’t a firm commitment.

Talia asked the call handler to put her through to Wareham Police Station, and also to message the female officer. When the call handler contacted PC Lee Lawrence he replied:

This is the fifth call I’ve had. The last call ended with them talking absolute rubbish… I have no idea who they are, what they are on about and they started calling me a drag queen, so I decided at that point to hang up.

I’ve asked control not to put any more calls through because I think they are taking the piss, to be honest.

If they are there, put them through and I’ll see if I can get some more sense out of them.

On this call we can hear a very distressed Gaia in the background. She says she wants the police to come now, to her uncle’s house, but arrangements were made for Talia and Gaia to return to Talia’s home, where she confirmed they’d be back by 3pm. It was left that Dorset Police would contact Talia to share whether she needed to take Gaia somewhere to meet them, or whether they’d go to her home address.

About an hour later Gaia and Talia left Bournemouth to return to Talia’s house. Talia described a change in Gaia who was quiet in the car:

She was virtually still as a stone, completely locked, locked in herself is how I’d describe it. On the journey back when we were traveling through Southbourne I asked if she was alright and she said she was.

I said I love you Gaia and she said I love you too. That’s all that passed between us. I mentioned I liked her trainers and she told me her Dad had brought them for her, they were her favourites.

Talia then explained how she’d briefly stopped to buy milk at Sainsburys and Gaia stayed in the car, then later she stopped for petrol and Gaia went into the petrol station shop and returned to the car with a chocolate ice-cream.

The coroner told the jury that they’d hear a statement from the petrol station cashier at a later date. The cashier remembered Gaia, who’d told them that she was pregnant and was being rushed to hospital. Asked if she had any awareness of this conversation Talia didn’t. She confirmed that Gaia didn’t speak to her about needing to go to hospital, and when asked if she were concerned at that time for Gaia’s immediate safety, Talia responded that she wasn’t because she was with her.

They got back to Talia’s home at about 14:40 and the next plan was to see the GP at 5pm, and they were waiting for the police to call. She described Gaia as:

relaxed to be in the flat, kicked her shoes off at the bottom of the staircase and I think she went to use the bathroom. I was putting the kettle on to make a couple drinks. My plan was to sit with Gaia in the sitting room and give her a chance to relax and to talk to me…

She went from the bathroom to the lounge, very shortly after that I came in with two mugs of tea and Gaia was standing up near my window and I gave her a mug of tea. I sat down with my mug of tea expecting Gaia to sit down next to me but I didn’t have time to invite her to come sit next to me…

Talia told the court that Gaia said that she really wanted to see Nathan, an old friend who Clara told the jury yesterday that she’d not seen for some time. She described Gaia walking off, she tried to persuade her to stay because she had a GP appointment and she told Talia to fuck off. Talia got in her car and followed Gaia at a distance.

At this point the jury were taken to a map and the route taken was pointed out to them. Talia saw Gaia turn into Morrison Road, but by the time she turned onto the road she couldn’t see Gaia.

The court heard how Talia knocked on some doors where she thought Nathan lived but she wasn’t able to locate him, or Gaia. She also thought that he may have moved.

The court then heard two calls that Talia made to Dorset Police. In one of them she says that she’s been advised to call emergency services by the crisis line.

In the first call she was seeking assistance to locate Gaia and get her to her GP’s appointment as she was in a mental health crisis. She gives a description of Gaia and what she was wearing. We also heard at this stage that after Gaia’s GP appointment at 5pm, the Police were due to make contact at 6pm to see how Gaia had got on at the doctors and whether she was able to speak to them. If she were they’d visit her that evening. That call ended at 15:41.

The second call was made at 16:24 and Talia explained that she was calling about a lost person and that she was worried for their safety. At that stage Talia had been home once, and was still out looking for Gaia.

A third call was made at 16:37 by which time she’d returned home. She again explains that her niece is missing.

Police: Enquiries can I help you

TP: Hello I’m phoning to check there’s someone out looking for my niece, I’ve already spoken to you and haven’t heard anything

Police: Have you got an incident number or anything

TP: No nothing, she just took my number and said somebody would call me, no one has called me, I don’t know what to do whether to keep looking

That call handler takes more information and promises that she’ll get an officer to look around town. On Talia’s request she gives her an incident number of 160.

Talia called back at 16:53 because she’d been told from someone where Gaia was; then there’s a follow on call at 16:58 where Talia says that she’s calling in connection to incident 160 and asks whether there is someone helping find her niece.

Coroner: You’re told what they’ll do is update the incident with those details and pass onto officers in area to make them aware. You say at this point you’ve not seen anyone, not seen a policeman yet and you’re told by control room I can see our officers have been making enquiries on the incident, that’s what you were told?

TP: Yes

Coroner: So it says I’ll update the incident and ask officers to be in contact with you, is that right?

TP: Yes

That call was 16:58. Talia then made another call at 18:00 to Dorset Police, asking for an officer to meet her at Quarry Close. She’s told that her call is being transferred to the force Command Centre, and if the line disconnects to dial 999.

The court then heard a call at 18:09 when Talia says that there is no point for an officer to attend Quarry Close because she’s been and Gaia is not there. She then asks to report a missing person. She’s told there will be a 15 minute wait as lines were busy.

She speaks to a call handler who she’d spoken to earlier, and she completes a Home Office Missing Person’s form. She again relays the details of what has happened, her concerns about Gaia’s mental health and the fact that she is very vulnerable, has short term memory problems and has epilepsy.

The Missing Person Report for Gaia is Incident 311. The call handler promises to get the details broadcast and says someone will visit Talia to get some more details. She warns Talia that the police are likely to want to start with a search of the house and gardens, and that officers are on their way, probably from Wareham, so should be with her shortly.

When asked by the coroner, at what stage in all those calls, she thought that she’d reported Gaia as missing, Talia says:

I was panicking because she was lost, and she was vulnerable, from beginning when I followed her in the car and lost sight of Gaia, and talking to someone in the call centre, from that point I just wanted reinforcements. I just felt she was in danger and lost…

When the coroner asked how the officers were when they visited, Talia said:

I felt they were kind of bland given the seriousness of the information police were already given… they repeatedly asked whether she’d gone to stay with a friend in the area… I told them that would be very out of character for Gaia to just disappear without letting me know where she was, she would not do this given the appointments today that were so important to her

Gaia had a full understanding of her epilepsy… she wouldn’t put herself at risk… she felt anxious and fearful at the prospect of having seizures.

When asked by the coroner if she’d told the officers what she’d been reporting throughout the day, she confirmed she had.

Coroner: You say the police failed to listen to you in respect of that day, and after when she’d gone missing, is that right?

TP: Yes

Coroner: You felt they didn’t prioritise your concerns, or appreciate the risk factors, Gaia had no medication, she had epilepsy, PTSD and the concerns you’d raised, is that right?

TP: Yes

Talia also raised concerns that officers didn’t search the area that she told them about, which was Priest’s Way. She couldn’t recall whether on that occasion she’d told the officers about Dancing Ledge. Asked if there was anything else she’d told the officers she replied:

TP: I think I could have mentioned to them it was very unlike Gaia to go out walking alone since she liked company since the assault. She’d never normally go off by herself. Was very clear to me she was not in her right mind, she’d have never have done that.

Coroner: As far as you’re concerned are you satisfied you impressed upon the police your concerns and the risks Gaia presented?

TP: Absolutely

The final call discussed today, was one that Talia made in the early hours of the following day, 8 November at 00:24. She hadn’t heard any information or been provided with any updates between the visits from the officers earlier that evening.

Talia wanted to know what was happening, and she was told that there were four officers out looking for Gaia at the time, and police helicopters. Talia tells them that she’s very concerned because Gaia has epileptic seizures at night and she asks them to check with the hospitals. She also tells them that Gaia hadn’t eaten.

Talia’s evidence will be completed tomorrow morning.

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