Gaia Pope-Sutherland’s family have claimed police “lied” after her death and dismissed evidence that may have helped prosecute their alleged rapist as they called for an independent probe into the investigation.
Miss Pope-Sutherland, 19, ran away from home after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after reporting she had been drugged and sexually assaulted by a man when she was 16.
At the time of her disappearance in 2017, she was concerned about his imminent release from custody on unrelated sexual offense charges.
Miss Pope-Sutherland reported she was raped after suffering a mental crisis brought on by the experience, but police chose not to prosecute, said Marienna Pope-Weidemann, her cousin.
Five years later, speaking at Doughty Street Chambers in London on Wednesday, Ms Pope-Weidemann said police were aware of numerous allegations against the man accused of grooming her back in 2014.
But the cases have been treated in isolation and likely submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as “he said, she said” cases, the cousin said.
The family are now demanding a “Gaia principle” that requires officers to check whether suspected sex offenders face multiple similar allegations or face disciplinary action.
“I think the decision not to take any further action in Gaia’s rape case was devastating for her and she was so concerned because we knew there were other victims,” Ms. Pope-Weidemann said.
An inquest into Miss Pope-Sutherland’s death found that she had died of hypothermia within 18 hours of her disappearance from her home in Swanage, Dorset on 7 November 2017.
Her body was found 11 days later in the undergrowth between Dancing Ledge and Anvil Point on the Dorset coast – an area her family had asked police to search as it was a favorite spot of her late grandfather.
Dorset Police apologized for the errors made in their response to her disappearance, but a senior coroner instructed the jury not to consider the force’s failures as contributory factors in Miss Pope-Sutherland’s death.
The investigation also revealed that a police search coordinator had subsequently altered search records relating to the disappearance.
Ms Pope-Weidemann said: “By any reasonable definition, they tampered with evidence, they lied to the jury, they lied to the IOPC.”
She claimed the “litany” of police failure included “(hanging up)” on MissPope-Sutherland when she called her the day she went missing.
“Even on the day Gaia went missing, she was in contact with the police, she was showing clear signs of an acute mental health crisis,” she said.
“They not only did nothing, they discriminated against them and hung up on them.”
Miss Pope-Sutherland’s family is calling for changes to police, health and social services as part of their Justice for Gaia campaign.
These include increased funding for mental health services and the establishment of a specialist unit dedicated to investigating rape and sex offenses within all police forces.
The family is also calling for an independent investigation into the police investigation into the alleged rapist “and his associates.”
Ms. Pope-Weidemann added: “We have asked for an independent review of the broader investigation into (him) and his associates to protect our community and fix any errors.
“To date, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has not done so… We call for a truly independent investigation because it is absolutely in the public interest for all of us to understand how this could have been allowed to happen.”
They say police knew of a significant number of other victims, but that each case was treated “as he said they said, and not as it was – a he said they said”.