Gaia Pope, 19, was texting mystery man before she vanished and died

Who was the mystery man texting Gaia Pope in the days before she died? BBC documentary into death of 19-year-old asks: ‘What was she running from?’

  • Gaia Pope, 19, disappeared in November 2017 and was found dead 11 days later 
  • The teen from Swanage, Dorset, suffered a mental health crisis before vanishing
  • A new BBC documentary says she was messaging a mystery man before she died

A traumatised teenager who ran away from home and was found dead 11 days later had been texting a mystery man before she disappeared, a bombshell new documentary has claimed. 

Gaia Pope, who was diagnosed with PTSD, died of hypothermia after vanishing from her home in Swanage, Dorset, on November 7, 2017. 

Tragically, the vulnerable 19-year-old’s body was found on a clifftop coastal path between Dancing Ledge and Anvil Point, Swanage, on November 18.

Her disappearance followed an allegation she made in which she had been savagely raped by a man when she was 16 – claims which were not pursued by police. 

Now a new documentary by the BBC exploring Gaia’s death has claimed she had been messaging a man called ‘Connor’ before suffering a mental health crisis and disappearing – as those who knew her questioned: ‘What was she running from?’

The mystery man ‘Connor’ had been messaging the teenager before she disappeared 

A clip from the documentary, Gaia: A Death on a Dancing Ledge, shows a text message reading: ‘Just wanna say you look amazing x’.

Afterwards, people who knew the teenager said about the man: ‘There was one boy, he had messaged her.’

Another added: ‘We knew what he was like.’ 

READ MORE: Police apologise to family of Gaia Pope, 19, for its failings in the initial search for the teenager after inquest finds she died from hypothermia after running away from her home

Speaking ahead of the three-part documentary’s release later this month, Gaia’s family said they wanted ‘young people and survivors’ watching the programme to know ‘they are not alone’.

‘Our hearts ache thinking about everything she was and all the possibilities of what she could have become,’ they told the BBC, before adding they hoped to ‘eliminate the perpetuation of rape culture in society’ and holding authorities ‘to account’. 

An inquest jury found the 19-year-old died from hypothermia after running away from her home while suffering a mental health crisis.

Dorset Police apologised to her family for failings ‘especially during those first 48 hours’ after her disappearance and that it has sought to improve.

A post-mortem examination found Gaia had died from hypothermia. An entomologist said he believed the latest she had been alive was November 9 – two days after she vanished.  

Missing teenager Gaia Pope body was found in undergrowth between Dancing Ledge and Anvil Point, close to the Swanage coastal path and died from hypothermia

Her clothing was found scattered across a field as if she had been removing it while she walked and she could have been suffering from ‘paradoxical undressing’ as she succumbed to hypothermia.

After deliberating for a day and a half, the jury returned a unanimous narrative conclusion that Miss Pope had died from hypothermia at some point between 3.59pm on November 7, 2017, and 10am on November 8, which was ‘probably caused by her mental health and mental state on November 7, 2017’.

After the inquest Gaia’s family hit out at the police, saying they had ‘failed to treat her with respect’. 

Her cousin, Marienna Pope-Weidemann, said: ‘For two years, they did nothing but fail Gaia. They failed to prosecute her rapist. They failed to treat her with respect.

‘They failed, as did Dorset Healthcare, to take safeguarding action or offer support with continuing harassment from the known child sex offender she had reported for rape and threats to kill.

The teenager, who suffered from severe epilepsy and PTSD, was reported missing on November 7 2017, died November 9 but not found until November 18.

‘Gaia’s story epitomises all that is wrong with British policing and cuts to the heart of why public confidence has never been so low.’

During the 11-week inquest, jurors at Dorset Coroner’s Court in Bournemouth heard evidence from 78 witnesses.

The teenager had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after revealing she had been drugged and raped by a man when she was 16.

At the time of her disappearance she was anxious about his imminent release from prison for unconnected sexual offences and had been experiencing ‘ongoing manic episodes’ – fearing he was ‘after her’.

The college student had also reported to police receiving indecent images via Facebook from a different man and was due to make a formal statement on the day she disappeared.

Miss Pope, who was a regular cannabis user, appeared ‘unsettled’ on November 7 and left her aunt Talia Pope’s home in Swanage at 3.40pm. The last known sighting was a short time later on Priest’s Road.

The inquest heard the chief constable of Dorset Police had accepted there were several failings in the hunt for Gaia.

Many members of the teenager’s family told police to search the area where her body was later found, as it was a favourite spot of her late grandfather.

Her mother, Kim Pope, tried reporting her missing and her aunt made five calls to Dorset Police in the hours after she ran off, but a formal missing person report was not logged by the force until 6.15pm.

Family and supporters of Gaia Pope outside outside Dorset Coroner’s Court in Bournemouth after the inquest into her death concluded

She was then graded as at ‘medium risk of harm’ and only upgraded to ‘high risk’ nine hours after she vanished.

It meant the search for Miss Pope was slow to get off the ground, with one officer searching Swanage town centre that evening and a police helicopter combing the Dorset coast.

Extra officers were not drafted in, and a specialist police search adviser and senior officers were not informed.

A 300-metre search of where she was last seen did not start until the following day and from the wrong location, with officers ‘crying out for help’, the inquest heard.

The teenager’s family told police to search the area where her body was later found, as it was a favourite spot of her late grandfather

The teenager’s father, Richard Sutherland, questioned whether police had directed enough resources to finding his daughter in the first 48 hours and should have searched the Dancing Ledge area earlier.

The inquest also heard that a police search co-ordinator retrospectively altered search records relating to the teenager.

There were several missed opportunities around Miss Pope’s medical care in which she was seen four times in two years by psychiatric services.

The inquest heard the teenager had spent several weeks in hospital in February and March 2017 – where she was sexually harassed by a patient – having been sectioned under the Mental Health Act following a tonic-clonic seizure and developing postictal psychosis.

Gaia Pope was 19 when she was reported missing from her home in Swanage, Dorset, in 2017. Her naked body was found 11 days later on cliff tops in undergrowth after she had died from hypothermia

Gaia’s sister Clara told the inquest her mental health had been a ‘ticking timebomb’ since she learned the man she accused of raping her was to be freed.

She was further assessed in Poole Hospital in the October after her mental health worsened but later discharged and sent home without any community support.

The inquest also heard Gaia’s social worker was never told she had undergone an assessment under the Mental Health Act just weeks before she disappeared.

The college student was assessed under the Mental Health Act but later discharged because she did not meet the criteria for being detained.

Professor Matthew Walker, a neurologist who treated the teenager’s epilepsy, said there needed to be better communication between professionals as he was never told about the October assessment, which he described as a ‘missed opportunity’.

Epilepsy expert Professor David Chadwick said there were also ‘missed opportunities’ to review her epilepsy drug treatment because of communication failures between doctors.

Furthermore, her social worker was never told of the assessment.  

Assistant chief constable for Dorset Police, Rachel Farrell, said: ‘Over the last four-and-a-half years, we have been determined to examine our response when Gaia and her family asked for help.

‘We have sought to identify and deliver the improvements that needed to be made. This work has been overseen by the most senior officers in our force.

‘We make a commitment today that we will act swiftly on any learning that has not already been part of our improvement programme.

‘We recognise that as a force our immediate response to the missing person inquiry should have been better managed.

‘Gaia and her family did not receive the service they should have had after her disappearance.

Gaia’s father, Richard Sutherland, questioned whether police had directed enough resources to finding his daughter in the first 48 hours and should have searched the Dancing Ledge area earlier

‘We should have done much better especially during those first 48 hours and for this we are truly sorry.’

The Independent Office for Police Conduct said following an investigation and a series of recommendations there had been ‘significant changes’ to Dorset Police’s missing person policies and procedures.

Regional director David Ford said: ‘While our investigation found several aspects of the search should have been better, particularly in the first 24 hours, we did not identify any evidence to suggest that a more concentrated approach would have resulted in Gaia being found alive.

‘Dorset Police have advised that they have adopted our recommendations and findings in full and have made significant changes to their policy and procedures on missing person investigations, including implementing joint training on searches with other emergency services and volunteer rescue organisations.

‘While we found police shortcomings over the initial period, it should be acknowledged that a large number of people, including police officers and staff along with others from the emergency and rescue services, devoted huge time and effort to finding Gaia and they are among the many who have been affected by her sad death.’

A map shows where Gaia lived, where she was last seen and the areas where her clothes and body were found 

The IOPC also investigated Dorset Police’s handling of the rape allegation made by the teenager in December 2015.

The watchdog said there were ‘performance issues’ for four officers but found no case to answer for misconduct.

But after the investigation was closed with no further action being taken, Gaia and her family should have been advised of the Victims’ Right to Review.

David Sidwick, the Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, said he had met privately with members of the teenager’s family.

‘I have already been assured that the way in which missing people cases are handled by Dorset Police has significantly changed since Gaia’s death,’ he said.

‘In the coming weeks, months and indeed years ahead, I will continue to carry out regular and detailed scrutiny and review to ensure that lessons have been learned and our communities receive the level of service that they expect and deserve.’

Gaia: A Death on a Dancing Ledge airs on BBC Three and BBC iPlayer on July 25 

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