A major three-part BBC documentary into the tragic death of Swanage teenager Gaia Pope is to be screened shortly after what would have been her 25th birthday.
Gaia, aged 19, went missing on 7th November 2017 and was found 11 days later just off the South West Coast Path near Swanage. A post-mortem examination showed that she died of hypothermia.
TV presenter and documentary maker Zara McDermott on location in Swanage
Gaia: A Death on Dancing Ledge
The BBC says that the documentary, entitled Gaia: A Death on Dancing Ledge, will attempt to shed light on the circumstances around her death and highlight the family’s search for truth and justice.
TV presenter Zara McDermott will track the events leading up to her death and explore the failings and oversights by officials, including Dorset Police and health care professionals, involved in her care.
Following a 12 week inquest in July 2022, a jury returned a unanimous conclusion and said that a failure to provide follow-up care after she was discharged from hospital, weeks before she went missing, may have also been a factor in causing her death.
Both Dorset Healthcare and Dorset Police accepted after the inquest that more could have been done, both to take Gaia’s concerns seriously while she was in care and to respond to a missing person’s enquiry.
Gaia Pope was just 19 when she was found dead from hypothermia 11 days after going missing
First time Gaia’s story has been told on TV
The documentary will hear directly from Gaia’s friends and family about her life and the circumstances that led to her death, as well as from the former Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset at the time of her death.
This three–part series will air on BBC Three and iPlayer from Tuesday 25th July 2023 and will explore whether enough was done in advance of Gaia’s death to protect and support not only her, but also other young women and girls in the area.
The BBC says that it’s the first time that Gaia’s story has been pieced together in full for a TV audience with various contributors interviewed all offering their perspectives on this tragic case.
Gaia’s body was found close to the coast path at Dancing Ledge
“We want survivors to know they are not alone”
Her family – Mum Kim, Dad Richard, twin sister Maya and older sister Clara, said in a statement:
“Gaia would have been 25 earlier this month, our hearts ache thinking about everything she was and all the possibilities of what she could have become.
“With the release of this series, we’re clinging on to the hope that we can be part of the change Gaia so desperately needed.
“We want young people and survivors watching to know that they are not alone; there are people and organisations that will listen to and support you.
“In speaking up, united we can eliminate the perpetuation of rape culture in society and hold the authorities that are meant to protect us to account.”
Gaia Pope – “a young woman with the world at her feet”
Her life was over before it had begun
The TV presenter Zara McDermott said:
“When I first heard about the disappearance of 19-year-old Gaia on the news in 2017, I was immediately struck by her story. She and I were the same age.
“I saw Gaia’s face on the news for days and days after this, and it really struck a chord with me. A young woman with the world at her feet, yet her life was over before it had even begun.
“I began diving deeper into Gaia’s story, alongside her brave family, and I uncovered a huge amount in the year and a half I spent down in Dorset. This young woman needed a voice, and I wanted to tell her story.”
Dorset Police apologised after the inquest that Gaia’s family did not receive the service they should have had after her disappearance
Mental health complicated by epilepsy
During the inquest, evidence was presented that said Gaia’s mental health was complicated by her epilepsy and her diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Speaking after the verdict, Gaia’s family said:
“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.
“This is not much to ask for and if she had received it, we believe she would be alive today.”
Clare Sillery, BBC head of documentary commissioning
“Gaia’s story to be front and centre”
Clare Sillery, BBC head of documentary commissioning, said:
“We are delighted to give a platform to this incredibly important and timely documentary series and for Gaia’s story to be front and centre.
“It follows on from the hugely poignant subjects that Zara McDermott has delved into already in her filmmaking for the BBC and looks at whether enough was done to protect Gaia and other young women and girls.
“We hope the series will contribute to a very important conversation about what needs to change in the future.”