The sister of Gaia Pope-Sutherland repeatedly told detectives where the teenager would be found and even drew a map – but police did not discover her body at the location for more than a week, an inquest has heard.
Clara Pope-Sutherland today said she knew her sister would have gone to a remote coastal beauty spot and handed police a map with a circle of a suggested search area, but it was never logged by officers.
Clara, who became the first family member to give evidence in Gaia’s inquest today, said that there were also a number of occasions when she had tried to contact police on dedicated numbers the family had been given following her disappearance, but the phones were either switched off or they could not get through.
At the time of her disappearance, Gaia had been in a state of anxiety and was unsettled and erratic upon learning that a man she accused of raping her was due to be released from prison – where he had serving time for an unrelated offence.
Gaia had been also communicating with a man who then sent her unsolicited photographs of his penis, which made her ‘extremely distressed’ and ‘triggered’ her emotions.
On the day she vanished, the teenager had been due to give a statement to the police about the lewd images.
But she ran away from her auntie’s house in Swanage, where she had been staying at the time, and made her way towards the – a flat area of rock on the Jurassic Coast.
An inquest into her death at Bournemouth today heard how Gaia, who suffered from severe epilepsy, removed her clothes and scattered them in a field before she was found in undergrowth.
A subsequent post mortem examination concluded she had died of hypothermia.
Rachael Griffin, Senior Coroner for Dorset, told the inquest jury that Gaia’s family have grave concerns about what happened between November 7 and 10, when she may still have been alive and whether the organisations searching did all they could to find her.
Gaia’s older sister Clara said today: ‘She was extremely distressed by the images she received.
‘She had communicated with a male and having told him she did not want to receive any images she received two images of his penis.
‘It seemed to be a very sudden thing she received and seemed to trigger a lot of emotions.
‘He knew it was wrong and inappropriate and she needed to report it. She was on a mission for justice of some kind. The motivation for that stemming from the fact she felt the man who raped her had essentially got away with it.’
Clara was studying at university in Southampton and had not seen Gaia since October 20, but the sisters still spoke regularly.
She said, from the conversations they had, she felt Gaia had been upset about the death of their grandfather and was ‘teetering on the edge of something’.
Referring to Dancing Ledge, she added: ‘Gaia enjoyed going on walks with him (our grandfather) and one of those locations was Dancing Ledge. It was also a walk for us as a family.
‘I had said multiple times the significance of Dancing Ledge. Gaia had been posting and talking about our grandfather and how upset she was and in my mind it didn’t make much sense that she would be anywhere else other than trying to be close to him.
On two or three occasions I mentioned it to the family liaison officer during our chats in the first couple of days.
‘Everybody’s houses were searched, including ours, I pulled aside an officer and said I just really want to make sure that you know there’s a possibility she could be there or in that area.
‘Again when I was asked where I think she could possibly be, the only thing I could come up with was Dancing Ledge. With my sister and knowing her state of mind, I would have expected her to be there.
‘I distinctly remember drawing on the back of a piece of paper a diagram of where my aunt’s house was, where she had been seen and where Dancing Ledge was. I drew a circle and said I’m not a police officer but this is radius of where I would be searching.
‘I would have put my walking boots on and gone up there myself. But it was November and it was cold and we were advised not to go up into the countryside where it could be dangerous and where the police were handling the search.
‘Having told several police officers this was the area, I thought she would be, and where unfortunately she was ultimately found, I felt confident that I would have been listened to and that area would have searched, but that diagram seems not to have been logged.’
Paying tribute to her sister, Clara added that she was a ‘bright, brave, kind, creative and fiercely loyal’.
The inquest, which is expected to last 11 weeks, continues.