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Missing teenager believed alleged rapist was ‘after her’, sister tells inquest

Undated handout photo issued by Dorset Coroner’s Court of Gaia Pope-Sutherland, 19, as an inquest heard, Ms Pope-Sutherland 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. Issue date: Tuesday April 26, 2022.
Undated handout photo issued by Dorset Coroner’s Court of Gaia Pope-Sutherland, 19, as an inquest heard, Ms Pope-Sutherland 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. Issue date: Tuesday April 26, 2022.

Teenager Gaia Pope-Sutherland was terrified of leaving her home on the day she disappeared because she thought her alleged rapist was “after her”, her twin sister told her inquest.

Maya Pope-Sutherland, 23, said her sister had received messages from her alleged attacker threatening to kill her family.

The college student had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after revealing she had been raped by the man in 2014 when she was 16.

Miss Pope-Sutherland told Dorset Coroner’s Court her sister worried about the man’s imminent release from prison having been jailed for sex offences against other girls.

Gaia Pope-Sutherland was found dead near the coast in Swanage, Dorset 11 days after going missing in November 2017 (Dorset Police/PA)
Gaia Pope-Sutherland was found dead near a coastal path in Swanage, Dorset, 11 days after going missing in November 2017 (Dorset Police/PA)

“I just know she was absolutely terrified to go out in Swanage, and she had shown me messages from the perpetrator saying that he knew people in Swanage and threatening to kill the family and she just became so terrified to leave the house,” she told the jury.

The court heard Miss Pope-Sutherland did not see her sister on the day she disappeared, November 7 2017, but spoke to her a couple of times on the telephone.

Describing those calls, she said: “She was just very, very fearful and she did mention something about a baby, and she just sounded quite confused.

“She was crying and saying she was very scared, and she thought the perpetrator was after her. At other times she was mentioning pregnancy.”

After the 19-year-old was reported missing a large search operation was launched in the Swanage area which included 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.

The inquest heard Miss Pope-Sutherland say her sister’s mental health and physical health deteriorated after alleging she had been raped in 2014.

The teenager's body was found near the coast 11 days after she went missing (Andrew Matthews/PA)
The teenager’s body was found near the coast 11 days after she went missing (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“Over the two-year period between 2015 and 2017 Gaia’s seizures began to get worse and worse,” she said.

“She would hallucinate, start fitting and turn blue and all of her muscles would contract. We often had to call ambulances to the house.

“She told me she was starting to feel really scared, terrified. She was struggling to manage the seizures and she was really depressed.

“She was struggling with her attendance at college and was finding it harder and harder to get out of the house. She often says she did not feel safe.”

Miss Pope-Sutherland said when her sister was admitted to a psychiatric unit in early 2017, she was sexually assaulted by another patient.

“He continued to contact her after she was discharged, asking her to go to his flat,” she said.

“She told me that she didn’t want to speak to him any more and that he was starting to scare her.

“Before she went missing, I remember seeing Gaia and her mental health was really bad. She said that she was terrified to leave the house, she had low self-esteem, she could not relax.

“Then she got sent indecent images by someone who lived in Swanage, and it really scared her. He was having an inappropriate conversation with her and it really disturbed her.

“She couldn’t cope with it and it really triggered her.”

The jury started to hear evidence from police call handlers who logged reports made by Miss Pope-Sutherland’s aunt Talia Pope on the day she disappeared.

The teenager’s mother, Kim Pope, was returning to Dorset from London and dialled 999 at 4.52pm and spoke with officers from Surrey Police to report her daughter missing.

Surrey Police spoke with the force in Dorset and emailed details of Ms Pope’s report and, at 5.47pm, a further email was sent.

Meanwhile, at 4.37pm, Talia Pope phoned Dorset Police and spoke with call handler Lucinda Williams to say her niece had run away, was struggling with her mental health and had an appointment with her GP at 5pm.

Miss Williams told the inquest she searched the force database and found details of a call Ms Pope made earlier that day and categorised this call as a “concern for welfare”, rather than a missing person.

At 6.18pm, Ms Pope phoned Dorset Police and again spoke with Miss Williams, who then created a missing person report.

“She had clearly stated herself she was missing and said she had been out searching and checked the addresses,” Miss Williams said.

“The concerns were heightened, her whereabouts were unknown, she was unaccounted for and definitely classed as a missing person by this time.”

Asked why a missing person report was not filed at 4.37pm, following the initial phone call, Miss Williams said: “Because she (Ms Pope) said, ‘It’s a mental health issue, we’ve got an appointment at the doctor’s at 5pm’, which was only about 20 minutes in the future.

“My understanding was that when she said, ‘We’ve got a doctor’s appointment’, the expectation was that Gaia was going to turn up.”

The inquest continues