A police officer disciplined over his handling of teenager Gaia Pope’s disappearance has admitted his failings at her inquest.
Former police constable Sean Mallon, who retired from Dorset Police in April 2021, said he was “acting up” as a sergeant in Wareham on the evening of November 7 2017 when 19-year-old Ms Pope went missing.
Mr Mallon and a Pc, Jon Kuspert, were the only ones on shift in the area when Ms Pope’s family called to say she had run off.
Both officers were aware she was due to an attend an appointment at the police station that afternoon about allegations of indecent images.
At Dorset Coroner’s Court on Thursday, Mr Mallon said that while PC Kuspert decided to go in search of Ms Pope alone he did not take any action regarding her disappearance including failing to ask for additional resources to help find her, despite being aware of two other officers being in the area who could have assisted.
He admitted to senior coroner Rachael Griffin he “didn’t do anything in relation to Gaia’s case”.
The jury in Bournemouth heard that when he finished his shift at 11.30pm Mr Mallon did not tell any other officers about Ms Pope, even failing to handover to the night shift sergeant who was based in Poole and responsible for policing Swanage overnight.
Sergeant Alexander Smith who was on shift in Poole that night said he received no handover from Mr Mallon and that although there was no formal handover process in place at the time there was an “understanding” that information about any ongoing incidents would be passed on.
Mr Mallon said he also did not task the Wareham night shift officers with carrying out searches for Ms Pope and said he “wrongly assumed” they would know themselves to go and look for her.
Ms Pope’s body was discovered 11 days later. A post-mortem examination found she had died of hypothermia.
Mr Mallon accepted during the hearing that there were a number of “missed opportunities” to find Gaia that night and into the next day because of his inaction.
He said: “I had no idea what I was doing was wrong at the time.”
Under questioning, Mr Mallon claimed he had not known at the time Ms Pope was vulnerable.
He told the jury he was not aware Ms Pope suffered from epilepsy, had mental health issues or had previously made an allegation of rape.
However, in a statement submitted prior to the inquest he said he was told by PC Kuspert that Ms Pope was having a “mental health episode” and that she was going to see her GP.
The family barrister Caoifhionn Gallagher said: “You were aware that Gaia was due to see her GP, and that she’d had a mental health episode that day. You knew she wasn’t very well, didn’t you?”
Mr Mallon said: “Possibly, yes.”
“You knew she was 19. It was a winter’s evening. You knew didn’t you that this was a vulnerable teenager who was missing?” Ms Gallagher added.
“I knew afterwards,” Mr Mallon replied.
Ms Gallagher continued: “You knew that as time went on over the course of the evening the risk to her was likely to increase? That’s true of any missing person. You don’t need to know the policy, that’s just common sense isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Mr Mallon said.
Mr Mallon’s lawyer Mark Ley-Morgan said his client had only acted as a sergeant on four occasions prior to the day Gaia went missing.
Mr Mallon said he had no experience or training in supervising a missing persons enquiry.
Previous witness PC Simon Colvin said he was tasked with searching a 300 metre radius from where Ms Pope went missing the next day but was initially not given enough resources. He admitted it was not a very well-organised search and he could not remember if he had a picture of Ms Pope at the time.
The inquest continues.