Gaia Pope: Police are 'confident' they have found body of missing teenager

Nicola Harley
Gaia Pope disappeared on the afternoon of November 7 - PA

The family of Gaia Pope have paid tribute to the "light of their life" after police found a body in the hunt for missing teenager.

Dorset Police say they are "confident" the body found on land near Swanage on Saturday is the missing 19-year-old.

Just hours earlier her father Richard Sutherland had led hundreds of volunteers in a mass search for his daughter.

Following the news, her sister Clara Pope, 21, said:  "She is the absolute light of my life. So beautiful, so emotionally wise and intelligent and so passionate and artistic and creative and understanding.

"And I will always, always, always be one of three. Always one of three. And I just want to thank everybody."

The discovery was made close to where clothing positively identified as Miss Pope's was found near cliffs on Thursday.

Officers said the death was being treated as "unexplained".

It has been claimed the clothing was dumped there days after she vanished as it had not been there when two separate search teams scoured the land at the start of the hunt for her.

Her cousin, Marienna Pope-Weidemann, added: "If there is one ray of light in this nightmare it is the compassion, humanity and community spirit that you've shown over the last 10 days.

"Your dedication and selflessness for a girl that many of you don't even know has been staggering and one of the few things that kept us going.

"This afternoon the emergency services found Gaia's body. We are absolutely devastated and unable to put those feelings of loss into words.

"We thank you for everything you have done. Our little bird has flown but will always be with us."

Police put up a missing person notice for Gaia Pope in Swanage Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

Dorset Police said the discovery was made at around 3pm on Saturday by specialist search teams near the coastal path and the field near to her clothes.

Detective Superintendent Paul Kessell, of Dorset Police's major crime investigation team, said: "Although the body has yet to be formally identified, we are confident that we have found Gaia.

"Her family have been informed and are being supported by specially-trained officers.

"Our thoughts remain with all of her family and friends at this very traumatic time.

"I can confirm that we have recovered all the clothing we believe Gaia was wearing when she disappeared and, with thanks, we no longer require the public to assist with searches."

A major hunt is under way to find Gaia Pope Credit: Facebook

The devastating news comes hours after hundreds of people joined searches on Saturday afternoon looking for the teenager.

DS Kessell added: "The coroner has been notified and further forensic examination will continue. This will guide the investigation in respect of the circumstances of the death which at this time remains unexplained.

"I would like to thank the community for their support and understanding while this large-scale investigation continues and their efforts in looking for Gaia.

"We have received a huge amount of support from the public who have contacted us with possible sightings of Gaia and items of found clothing."

A police team searches a mill pond in Swanage, Dorset, after Gaia Pope vanished Credit: Jennifer Cockerell/PA

Detectives have arrested and released under investigation three members of the same family on suspicion of her murder.

The uncle of a friend of the teenager was released by police after spending 24 hours in custody following his arrest on Thursday.

Paul Elsey's father accused Dorset Police of waging a witch hunt against his family and suggested members may sue for wrongful arrest.

Mr Elsey's nephew Nathan Elsey, 19, an aspiring actor, and his mother Rosemary Dinch, 71, had also previously been arrested and then released.

Miss Pope, who suffers from severe epilepsy, went missing on November 7, sparking a huge hunt.

Mass searches have been organised by the Find Gaia group on Facebook to find her.

Since she disappeared hundreds of missing person posters have been distributed across the county.

On Friday, Miss Pope's mother, Natasha, said she had not given up hope her daughter will be found alive - saying "I believe miracles can happen".

In a message posted on social media she said: "I believe in this community and I believe miracles can happen.

"I am holding onto hope, along with Gaia's sisters and the whole family who are my strength. Please hold on with us.

"My eternal thanks to everyone who is out there searching for my little girl. Please come out over the weekend and do what you can. Every one of you makes a difference."

The last confirmed sighting of Miss Pope was at Ms Dinch's home in Manor Gardens at about 4pm on November 7.

An hour earlier she was captured on CCTV buying an ice cream inside St Michael's Garage in the town, having been driven there by a relative.

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