The family of the Dorset teenager Gaia Pope repeatedly urged police to search the clifftop spot where her body was finally found 11 days after she vanished but felt officers focused on other places, an inquest jury has heard.
Relatives of Pope, who had severe epilepsy and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after revealing she had been raped when she was 16, told police they thought she would have gone to a spot of great sentimental importance to her called Dancing Ledge.
Pope’s older sister, Clara Pope-Sutherland, told the court she even drew a sketch showing the spot where the 19-year-old went missing on Dancing Ledge. She said: “I drew a circle and said I am not a police officer, but this is the radius of where I would be searching. I believe questions were looking outside of that area.”
Pope-Sutherland told the inquest in Bournemouth that the place was important to her sister because of its associations with her late grandfather, David Pope.
She said: “Every single one of the family mentioned that Dancing Ledge was a place of very high significance. In my mind, it didn’t make much sense that she would be anywhere else other than trying to be there and being close with my grandfather.
“I would have put my walking boots on and gone there myself. We were consistently advised by officers not to go into the countryside where it could be dangerous and where the police were handling the search.”
Pope’s body was found in undergrowth on 18 November 2017 very close to Dancing Ledge.
Pope-Sutherland said Gaia Pope was “bright, brave, kind creative and fiercely loyal”, interested in nature, art and science. She was “extremely loving and caring” even in her “darkest times” and hoped for a career in health and social care.
She was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2013 when she was 14 or 15. The condition became worse and her family was frightened she could suddenly die in bed or in the bath if she had a seizure. “It was scary for her and very limiting,” Pope-Sutherland said.
In December 2015, the court heard, Pope alleged that she had been raped 12 months before when she was 16. Pope-Sutherland said the teenager believed she had been drugged before being attacked. She said her sister recalled being given a cup of tea. “She didn’t remember much after that,” she said.
Gaia Pope reported to police what had happened but did not feel she was being taken seriously. In November 2016 she was told that the alleged perpetrator was not going to be charged. “She was told the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] had looked at the case and decided there was no way they could go forward,” the witness said.
Pope-Sutherland said the alleged perpetrator had threatened to kill Pope and her family if she spoke about what had happened. The man was later jailed for another sexual offense not connected to Pope.
Her sister recalled a moment when she realized her attacker would be let out of jail, describing this a “ticking timebomb moment” and adding: “The thought of him really haunted her. She was very, very scared.” Her seizures became more severe and she suffered a mental health crisis.
Pope-Sutherland said in the months before she died her sister was teetering on the “brink of an emergency” but the family did not believe she received the care she needed from mental health services. She said Pope felt that some health professionals did not believe her rape allegation.
Jurors have been told that at the time of his disappearance, Pope was worried about the man’s imminent release.
A few days before she vanished another man sent her sexually explicit images of himself. Pope-Sutherland said it triggered memories of the rape and she was due to speak to police about it on the day she went missing.
The investigation continues.