Missing teenager ‘anxious’ about alleged rapist’s jail release, court hears

·4-min read
An appeal poster for missing teenager Gaia Pope in a window of Beales Department Stores in Poole, Dorset. (PA Archive)
An appeal poster for missing teenager Gaia Pope in a window of Beales Department Stores in Poole, Dorset. (PA Archive)

A teenager was “unsettled” on the day she was last seen alive because of the imminent release from prison of the man she had accused of raping her, an inquest heard.

Gaia Pope-Sutherland, 19, had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after revealing she had been raped by a man when she was 16.

Dorset Coroner’s Court heard the student, who suffered from severe epilepsy, was reported missing from her home in Swanage, Dorset, on November 7 2017.

Gaia Pope-Sutherland’s inquest heard the teenager was concerned about the release from prison of the man she had accused of raping her (Dorset Police/PA) (PA Media)
Gaia Pope-Sutherland’s inquest heard the teenager was concerned about the release from prison of the man she had accused of raping her (Dorset Police/PA) (PA Media)

A large search operation was launched in the Swanage area for the teenager, including police, HM Coastguard, National Police Air Service, Dorset Search and Rescue and members of the public.

On November 18 her body was found by police search teams in undergrowth between Dancing Ledge and Anvil Point, close to the Swanage coastal path.

Rachael Griffin, senior coroner for Dorset, told jurors in her opening remarks that Miss Pope-Sutherland was upset at the decision of Dorset Police not to charge the unnamed man she had accused of raping her in 2014 when aged 16.

He was subsequently jailed for sexual offences committed against other people and was due to be released by prison in the autumn of 2017, Ms Griffin said.

“In December 2015 Gaia disclosed to her family that she had been raped the previous year when she was 16 years old,” she said.

At the time of her disappearance on November 7 2017 Gaia was anxious about his imminent release

Senior coroner Rachael Griffin

“She made a report to the police and that report was investigated. The alleged perpetrator denied the allegation. He was not charged or convicted of any offence relating to Gaia.

“Approximately a year later, however, the alleged perpetrator was convicted of other sexual offences relating to other victims and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

“He was due to be released from prison in the autumn of 2017.

“At the time of her disappearance on November 7 2017 Gaia was anxious about his imminent release.

“It is not relevant for you in your role in this inquest to hear any detail about the precise circumstances of the alleged rape, or any detail about the police investigation into the allegation of rape, or the decision not to charge the alleged perpetrator

“It is not for you to make any determination about the rape allegation.

“However, it is relevant for you to hear evidence about the impact of the alleged rape on Gaia, how upset Gaia was about the decision not to charge the alleged perpetrator and the impact of that on her mental health and the impact of the alleged perpetrator’s imminent release on Gaia’s mental health.”

Members of the public joined the search for the teenager around the coastal areas of Swanage in November 2017 (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)
Members of the public joined the search for the teenager around the coastal areas of Swanage in November 2017 (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

In her opening statement, Ms Griffin said Miss Pope-Sutherland was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2013 and continued to receive treatment from doctors in both Dorset and London for the condition.

The teenager was first referred to mental health services for assessment in December 2015 and 12 months later with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“She was last seen and assessed by a mental health team on the October 22 2017 when she was discharged back to the care of a general practitioner,” Ms Griffin said.

The court heard that on November 2, Miss Pope-Sutherland reported to Dorset Police that she had received indecent images via social media and was to make a formal statement on the day she disappeared.

“Gaia was with her aunt on that day at her aunt’s address on Argyle Road in Swanage as her aunt was assisting her to make arrangements to make a formal complaint,” the coroner said.

“Gaia appeared very unsettled that day and left her aunt’s address, running away from the address at around 3.40pm.

“After Gaia left her aunt’s address, her aunt contacted Dorset Police at 3.42pm to record that she was having some sort of episode and that her aunt was concerned for her welfare.”

The teenager was captured on CCTV at 3.40pm running along Morrison Road.

“Gaia then attended the address of a friend’s grandmother and is behaving irrationally,” the coroner said.

“She leaves that address and the last know sighting of Gaia was on CCTV in Priest’s Road at 3.59pm on November 7.”

The coroner said the inquest would last until July and would consider “how and in what circumstances” Miss Pope-Sutherland died.

The jury will hear evidence of the care provided to her and what Dorset Police did from November 7, the day Miss Pope-Sutherland disappeared, until her body was found.

The inquest was adjourned until Wednesday.

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