Gaia Pope-Sutherland was an expressive, sensitive, charismatic young woman with a brilliant sense of humour. She was a much loved daughter, granddaughter, sister, twin, cousin and friend to many. You can learn more about Gaia in the series of blogposts below.
Gaia’s inquest was opened shortly after her death, there were delays as other investigations including two by the Independent Office of Police Conduct were held, and then further delays due to Covid19.
Her inquest took place over 12 weeks from April – July 2022 at Bournemouth Coroners Court, in front of Senior Coroner Rachael Griffin who sat with a jury. I reported the first 10 days, blog posts linked below.
The inquest concluded with the jury finding Gaia’s death was caused by hypothermia, and that on the balance of probabilities she died between 15.59pm on 7 November 2017 and 10am the following day.
In a narrative conclusion, the jury found:
The coroner did not allow the jury to decide on whether failings with the police search or calls caused or contributed to Gaia’s death, despite the critical evidence heard. However, there were admitted failings by Dorset Police, recorded in the record of inquest, including:
There were additional failings admitted by Dorset Healthcare University Trust (DHUFT), also recorded on the record of inquest, including:
Gaia was many things. A beloved daughter, sister and friend. Bright, brave, kind, creative and fiercely loyal to those she loved. She was also a survivor of child sexual exploitation who was badly failed by the state.
We miss her every minute and there can be no justice for a loss like this but we know how proud Gaia would be of what we have achieved here, having argued successfully for the coroner’s unprecedented decision to issue numerous vital Prevention of Future Deaths reports that challenge the underpinnings of austerity and misogyny at a local and national level.
There has been a lot of talk about the complexity of Gaia’s needs but the truth is they were basic. She needed to be treated with kindness, respect and dignity. She needed professionals to take the time to listen to her and her family and each other. She needed trauma-informed support and advocacy as she pursued justice and tried to rebuild her life after rape. She needed to be protected and she needed to be heard.
This is not much to ask for and if she had received it we believe she would be alive today.
This is not just Gaia’s story. Public services nationally and locally in Dorset continue to fail survivors. That is why today we are launching a campaign for Dorset Police to invest in a Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit of officers who are trained to investigate properly and protect people like Gaia.
What we demand now is justice for those left behind. All the lives not yet lost, which are precious and worth fighting for. If it takes a lifetime, it will be a lifetime well spent because Gaia is worth that and so are all of you.