The family of a 19-year-old who was found dead after Dorset Police officers hung up on her have expressed their concern over the actions of officers investigating the deaths of two other teenagers.
Gaia Pope’s family said they feared that police may have once again “failed those most in need of their help” after the young couple were found dead at a Dorset nature reserve on Tuesday, following a suspected “suicide pact”.
The force has referred itself to the police watchdog following the discovery of the teenagers’ bodies at Bothenhampton Nature Reserve, near Bridport, suggesting offices had prior contact with the pair.
Forces are required to make a referral only “where the contact may have caused or contributed to the death or injury”.
After Pope was found dead 11 days after going missing from her home near Swanage in Nov 2017, it emerged at her inquest that she had telephoned the force on the day she vanished, but that the calls were terminated by police because they said she was “abusive”.
Concern raised about police force’s self-referral
In a statement on Facebook, her family said: “Deeply saddened to hear of the deaths of two teenagers found dead in a Dorset nature reserve today. Also concerned to see that Dorset Police has referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
“One of the reasons a force must self-refer is if someone had contact with the police when or shortly before they died and that contact may have caused or contributed to the death.”
The statement continued: “Remembering the recent testimony from Officer X who revealed the police hung up on Gaia the day she disappeared, we hope and pray this isn’t the first chapter in another story of Dorset Police failing those most in need of their help.
“Austerity cuts have damaged community mental health services so much that increasingly there is no intervention until it’s too late & then that intervention is police intervention. But they don’t have the resources, training or crucially the caring culture to do this work well and it is costing lives.”
The bodies of the two – a 17-year-old girl and 18-year-old boy – are believed to have been spotted by a dog walker at Bothenhampton Nature Reserve.
One man, who asked not to be named, said: “I heard it was a suicide pact between two young people. It’s dreadful. Certainly not something you expect to happen on your doorstep.”
Police said there were no suspicious circumstances, but appealed on Friday for information from anyone who may have seen the couple in the Bridport or West Bay areas between Saturday and Tuesday.
The boy is described as white, about 5ft 7in, of slim build and with short, dark hair, a short beard and brown eyes.
He was wearing brown lace-up boots, light grey tracksuit bottoms, a dark T-shirt and a navy hooded Parka-style jacket with a brown patch on the left arm, and possibly carrying a pale green Nike bag.
The girl is described as white, about 5ft 5in, of slim build with dark brown, shoulder-length hair and brown eyes, wearing black and white trainers, light grey tracksuit bottoms, a navy Puffa-style jacket and a pink scarf.
Det Sgt Simon Lee, of Dorset Police, said: “As is normal in these cases, we are now making inquiries on behalf of the coroner’s office to establish the circumstances of the deaths.
“Therefore, we are appealing for information from the public to help us piece together the two young people’s movements prior to their tragic deaths.”
The secluded wooded area where the pair were found is about one mile from where it is thought they lived, in West Bay, the setting for Broadchurch, the ITV crime drama.
A neighbour of the couple, who are understood to have walked to the nature reserve, said: “They were nice people. We said ‘hello’ to each other. They seemed happy. They had two little cats and had recently had a baby. They had moved down from Shropshire.”