Gaia Pope: Coroner makes wide ranging recommendations for change as critical inquest concludes

Gaia Kima Pope-Sutherland, 19, was a rape survivor who had engaged with Dorset mental health services and police. She was reported missing on 7 November 2017 in Swanage, Dorset. Following a police investigation and a public search, her body was found 11 days later less than a mile from where she was last seen.

After twelve weeks, on Friday 15 July 2022 the inquest into her death concluded, finding Gaia not being referred to either the community mental health team or the crisis team when discharged from hospital on 22 October 2017 (just weeks before she went missing) was a factor that possibly caused or contributed to her death. The conclusions also recorded a series of missed opportunities by Dorset Police and Dorset Healthcare University Trust.

The coroner will also be making multiple reports to prevent future deaths. These include reports to the College of Policing on national training on epilepsy, Post Traumatic Stress and supporting those with sexual trauma; to Dorset Healthcare Trust across several issues, including policies on how staff deal with incidents of sexual harassment as well as communication with patients’ families and carers; and to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on resourcing and communication between epilepsy and mental health teams to improve holistic care.

Gaia’s family describe her as a bright, brave, kind, creative and loving. The challenges she faced as a young woman living with epilepsy and as a survivor of sexual violence had inspired her to pursue a career in health and social care. Her family believe the inquest evidence has demonstrated the broader systemic failures in public services for survivors and women with mental ill health.

Gaia’s family is represented by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Sophy Miles, Stephanie Davin and Rosa Polaschek of Doughty Street Chambers, instructed by Sarah Kellas of Birnberg Peirce Solicitors, supported by Aneeka Shah and Josie Fathers. The family are supported by INQUEST, the Centre for Women’s Justice, the Gemini Project and Rape Crisis.

More information is available in INQUEST’s press release, here, and the Justice for Gaia campaign, here.