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Gaia Pope’s family accuse state of ‘gaslighting’ them since her death

Gaia’s family say she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after she was allegedly raped and argue this was ‘the crucial factor’ in her mental health struggles and death (   )
Gaia’s family say she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after she was allegedly raped and argue this was ‘the crucial factor’ in her mental health struggles and death ( )

The family of a teenage girl found dead after saying she had been raped have accused the state of “gaslighting” them in the wake of her death.

Gaia Pope, a 19-year-old from Swanage in Dorset, was reported missing from her home in November 2017 and her body was discovered almost two weeks later in undergrowth on a nearby clifftop. A post-mortem examination came to the conclusion Pope died of hypothermia.

Police did not proceed with criminal charges after Gaia’s rape allegations, but her alleged rapist was handed a two-year sentence later that same year for an unrelated case involving the abuse of a teenage girl. Gaia went missing around the time he was due for release from prison.

Gaia’s family say she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after she was allegedly raped and argue this was “the crucial factor” in her mental health struggles and death.

The family’s letter of complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), exclusively shared with The Independent, states one of the core parts of their grievance is the “failure to conduct a wider investigation” into her alleged rapist’s “activities or that of his associates who they believe to be involved in serious sex offences and harassment of women”.

The letter of complaint, which was sent in May 2018 and centred around Dorset Police’s handling of Gaia’s rape case and disappearance, added: “The family require confirmation from the police as to whether any action was taken as a result of potentially significant further evidence, and whether a wider investigation has or is being undertaken into his activities. If not, why not?”

Speaking to The Independent in an exclusive interview, Marienna Pope-Weidemann, Gaia’s cousin, said Dorset Police had potential victims of his in “double digits” before Gaia even came to them with her rape complaint.

Ms Pope-Weidemann, who is 31, added: “He was already supposed to be under investigation back in 2014 when he was allegedly grooming Gaia and who knows how many others. We believe that many of these allegations, including Gaia’s, were dealt with in isolation.

“The alleged rapist was convicted once again for further child sex offences based on evidence police had been in possession of for years but hadn’t used – we don’t know why.”

She said the police’s decision to look at Gaia’s allegation in isolation stems from a “culture of sexism and misogyny” within policing itself - adding she did not know whether the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was ever given “the full interconnected picture explicitly explaining he had multiple victims”.

Ms Pope-Weidemann added: “I sat in Gaia’s police interviews with her. I loved and tried to support her throughout that process.

“After that, I thought I knew how bad things were. I had lost all trust in the police before she even went missing. Every step of the way it has got worse, every bit of the picture that has been revealed has got uglier.”

She argued Gaia was failed by the police after she reported the rape, but since her death, her family have experienced “state-sanctioned gaslighting” as she hit out at Dorset Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, as well the IOPC, and the inquest process into Gaia’s death.

Gaslighting refers to manipulating someone by making them question their very grasp on reality by forcing them to doubt their memories and pushing a false narrative of events.

“Gaia's perpetrator said: ‘If you say anything to anyone which could get me into trouble, I won’t hurt you because that will get me in trouble with the police, but my associates will,’” Ms Pope-Weidemann said.

I had lost all trust in the police before she even went missing.

Marienna Pope-Weidemann

“They told her: ‘They will knock on every door in Swanage to find you’. Me and Gaia told the police about this at the time. She was denied any form of protection order and they didn’t even make a safeguarding referral to domestic abuse or sexual violence services.”

Gaia’s family are demanding a “Gaia Principle” is introduced which necessitates police officers to see if suspected sex offenders are facing multiple similar allegations - with a failure to do so meaning they are subjected to disciplinary proceedings. Her relatives are also campaigning for all police forces to have specialist units which solely investigate rape and sexual offences.

The family, which has launched a petition that outlines their demands, want an independent investigation of the police probe into Gaia’s alleged rapist “and his associates”.

“Because the IOPC has not done a proper review of the rape investigation, many of our questions remain answered,” Ms Pope-Weidemann said. “There are clearly failings by Dorset Police and the CPS but the lack of information means it is hard to know where to draw the line.”

She argued the IOPC’s investigation into how Dorset Police looked at Gaia’s rape allegation “replicated all the shortcomings” from the original Dorset Police investigation - with her allegations examined in isolation in both cases.

“The way this has played out raises very serious concerns about the IPOC,” Ms Pope-Weidemann added. “The IOPC report also said there is no evidence that he perpetrated threatening or controlling behaviour - this was despite years after Dorset Police saying publicly that he knowingly targets vulnerable teenage girls and had twice convicted him for child sex offences.”

The family were “deeply distressed and disturbed” to discover the IOPC is not going to investigate two serving Dorset Police officers who “secretly altered what were meant to be contemporaneous search records” in the wake of Gaia’s death.

The inquest into Gaia’s death learned a police search coordinator had changed search records about her disappearance.

“They tampered with evidence, lied to the jury, lied to the IOPC, who completely failed to pick up on any of this in their ‘investigation’. We haven’t even been given an explanation. We demand one,” she added.

Ms Pope-Weidemann hit out at the fact a senior coroner severely restricted the inquest jury's ability to look at Dorset Police’s shortcomings as playing a part in Gaia’s death.

The number of sex offences reported to Dorset Police has doubled in the last decade yet the number of cases being charged has halved, she explained.

Gaia’s alleged rapist was jailed for 21 months in December 2018 for inciting a 15-year-old girl to engage in sexual activity over the internet. He was told he would be placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for ten years and a Sexual Harm Prevention Order he was already subject to was extended to 2028.

A spokesperson for Dorset Police said: “During the course of the inquest, it was established that a search log had been retrospectively amended to create a fuller picture of all the areas where officers searched for Gaia after she was reported missing. The retrospective amendment was made to try and make the vast amount of information available easier to understand.”

The representative explained the “Professional Standards Department reviewed the matter and identified no misconduct” as they noted “work has already been carried out in force to ensure search logs cannot be retrospectively amended or updated with a new process introduced”.

Dorset Police is “absolutely committed to supporting victims and we are continuing to work with colleagues in the Crown Prosecution Service to improve the services offered to those who report rape and other serious sexual offences”, the representative added.

A spokesperson for the IOPC said they “investigated complaints from Gaia Pope’s family about how Dorset Police dealt with an allegation of rape, made in December 2015.”

The representative added: “While we found the police investigation could have been more thorough, any failings by individual officers did not amount to breaches of the professional standards of behaviour.

“We found performance issues for four officers for some inadequacies, including not contacting all witnesses, not submitting intelligence reports and insufficient record-keeping.”

But the spokesperson said “the accounts we obtained from additional witnesses would not have changed the police decision not to refer the matter to the CPS”, adding that they “were satisfied that the police ‘no further action’ decision was appropriate on the evidence available”.

“However, we did find that Dorset Police failed to advise Gaia’s family of the Victims’ Right to Review following their decision not to refer to the CPS,” they added.