Poignant video of teenager destined for career in health and social care played an inquest

A poignant video put together by the family of teenager Gaia Pope-Sutherland has been played to an inquest examining her death.

The 19-year-old was reported missing from her home in Swanage, Dorset, on November 7 2017 and was found dead 11 days later in undergrowth near the coast.

A large search operation was launched in the Swanage area for the teenager, which included police, HM Coastguard, the 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, close to the Swanage coastal path.

Dorset Coroner’s Court has heard Miss Pope-Sutherland, who suffered from severe epilepsy, 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.

She had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after revealing she had been raped by the man when she was 16.

On the first day of evidence at the Town Hall in Bournemouth, the jury watched the video pen portrait produced by Miss Pope-Sutherland’s family.

Set to music, the three-minute video shows several images of Gaia and is narrated by members of her family.

Twin sister Maya Pope-Sutherland begins the narration, with the words: “Gaia grew up in Dorset with her mum Natasha, big sister Clara, twin sister Maya and cousin Marienna.

“Gaia loved her family and her home deeply. She was happiest out in the Purbeck nature her grandparents introduced her to, inspired by its beauty and wildlife to create art.

“Or, of course, cuddling up with her beloved cat Bella, a rescue prone to scratching others but who let Gaia cradle her like a baby.”

Gaia’s mother Kim Pope continues: “Gaia was a force of nature and fiercely loyal to those she loved. Despite being bullied herself at school, or perhaps because of this, she was always ready to stand up for those who needed it.

“She was a shoulder to cry on and a friend to be relied on. With Gaia around, there was never a dull moment – or a quiet one.

“She had a joyful nature, a ready and radiant smile and filled our lives with song and laughter.”

The teenager’s aunt Talia Pope goes on: “After she shared that she had been raped, Gaia’s deteriorating physical and mental health changed her life.

“At times our girl would seem to disappear, lost in fear and self-doubt. But she fought bravely to return to us, and her inner light always shone through the clouds.

“Gaia also kept hold of her dreams. She hoped to have a big family and host Christmases in the Dorset cottage she dreamed of, surrounded by her family and friends.”

Gaia’s older sister Clara Pope-Sutherland continues: “The challenges she faced as a young woman living with epilepsy and as a survivor of sexual violence inspired her to pursue a career in health and social care.

“Gaia had strong values and wanted to contribute to positive change for her community. This makes us so proud.”

The video ends with Gaia’s cousin Marienna Pope-Weidemann, who says: “Above all, we remember Gaia’s immense passion, compassion and creativity.

“We give thanks for every day we got to share with her. The world is a darker place without Gaia, and she will be missed every minute of the rest of our lives.”

Miss Pope-Sutherland was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2013 and continued to receive treatment from doctors in both Dorset and London for the condition.

Consultant forensic toxicologist Sarah Tarrant-Wooding told the inquest that post-mortem blood tests found therapeutic levels of two drugs prescribed to Miss Pope-Sutherland for treating epilepsy.

There were also traces of cannabis in her blood and “extremely low levels” of diazepam.

Ms Tarrant-Wooding said the levels of cannabis suggested it had been used “within a day or so, perhaps a few hours” prior to the teenager’s death but depended on how regularly she used the drug.

“I think it depends how frequently she took cannabis. It is very difficult to put timings on last use,” she said.

“It depends how much it was used, the strength of the drug and how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was in the body.

“It would suggest use within the last 12 hours of life.”

The witness agreed with senior coroner Rachael Griffin’s question that this cannabis use was “illegal”, but she was unable to say from the results whether Miss Pope-Sutherland had, for example, smoked a cannabis joint or used cannabis oil.

No traces of alcohol were found in the teenager’s body, the court heard.

The inquest also heard evidence from research entomologist Martin Hall, who examined blow fly larvae recovered from the teenager’s body.

Mr Hall said the flies would only have laid larvae once she had died and during daylight hours – and from his analysis, he believed the latest she was alive was November 9.

“She could have been dead on November 7 and I note she was last seen alive about an hour before dusk that day,” he said.

“She could have died some time after that, and the blow flies would have not found her until the next day.”

The coroner asked: “The very latest Gaia was alive, based on the analysis of the larvae, is November 9?”

He replied: “Yes, that would be the most probable date.”

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