Jury deliver verdict on death of Swanage teenager Gaia Pope

At an inquest at Bournemouth Town Hall, a jury concluded that Gaia Pope’s mental health and mental state probably caused or contributed to her death.

Gaia Pope, 19, from Swanage went missing on 7th November 2017 and was found 11 days later just off the South West Coast Path near Swanage in Dorset. A post-mortem examination showed that she died of hypothermia.

Western mile markers along the Purbeck Coast

Gaia’s body was found 11 days after her disappearance near the coast path between Dancing Ledge and Anvil Point in Dorset

Failure to provide follow-up care after she was discharged from hospital

Following a 12 week inquest, the jury returned a unanimous conclusion on Friday 15th July 2022 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.

The court heard that Gaia went missing on 7th November 2017 and died at some point between 3.59 pm on that day and 10 am on 8th November 2017.

During the hearing, Dorset Police’s chief constable Scott Chilton accepted that there were several police failures in the search for Gaia following her disappearance.

But the jury, directed by the Dorset Coroner Rachael Griffin, found the force’s handling had not caused or contributed to her death.

The coroner said she would write to the UK government’s department for health and social care, Dorset Healthcare NHS Trust, Dorset Police and local councils urging them to make changes to prevent future deaths.

“No one wants anything like this to happen again”

After the conclusion of the inquest, Faisil Sethi, Dorset Healthcare’s executive medical director, said:

“While we stand by the clinical assessments made, we acknowledge and have publicly accepted in court that we could’ve done more to help support Gaia’s care following her assessment in October 2017.

“We also acknowledge that more should have been done to make sure Gaia felt safe when she was in our care and that her concerns were taken seriously.

“We have put in place measures to address these issues and ensure our staff are fully aware of their responsibilities. No one wants anything like this to happen again.”

“We should have done much better”

In a statement, assistant chief constable of Dorset Police, Rachel Farrell said:

“We recognise that as a force our immediate response to the missing person enquiry should have been better managed. This includes how we identified Gaia’s vulnerabilities, the missing risk she was graded at, how we oversaw coordination of searches and the running of an effective command structure.

“Gaia and her family did not receive the service they should have had after her disappearance. We should have done much better especially during those first 48 hours and for this we are truly sorry.”

Gaia Pope-Sutherland

Gaia Pope was just 19 years old when she died

“We miss her every minute and there can be no justice for a loss like this”

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.

“…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.

“These include a report to the CEO of the College of Policing about national training on epilepsy, post traumatic stress and supporting those with sexual trauma; a report will be made to the CEO of 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 a report to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on resourcing and communication between epilepsy and mental health teams to improve holistic care.

“We hope that this leads to real change not just in Dorset but throughout the country, and will save future lives.”

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