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Gaia Pope’s family appeal for information on anniversary of disappearance

Gaia Pope was found dead in undergrowth near a coastal path by specialist police search teams Credit: PA

The family of a teenager whose disappearance sparked a major police inquiry are appealing for information on the first anniversary of her last being seen alive.

Gaia Pope vanished on November 7 last year and her disappearance prompted a massive campaign from family and friends to find her.

The 19-year-old, who lived near Swanage in Dorset, was found dead 11 days later in undergrowth near a coastal path by specialist police search teams.

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An opening inquest later heard that Miss Pope, who suffered from severe epilepsy, died from hypothermia.

Dorset Police’s response to her disappearance is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

The watchdog is also investigating a complaint from Miss Pope’s family over Dorset Police’s decision to take no further action in relation to an allegation of rape she made in December 2015.

Her family said she developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder following that decision.

On the anniversary of her disappearance, Miss Pope’s family has appealed to members of the public to come forward with any relevant information.

The family is also convening an art project in her memory and to highlight the crisis in service provision for rape survivors and young people with mental ill health.

Gaia Pope’s father Richard Sutherland during the search for his daughter 12 months ago Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

Miss Pope’s mother, Natasha Pope, said: “This year has been more painful than words can say.

“Sometimes I can’t believe I have survived it, but with my every breath I love and demand justice for my daughter.

“Since Me Too, we have seen a rising movement for the rights of women and girls. Change is coming.”

Miss Pope’s cousin Marienna Pope-Weidemann said: “When she was missing, it was the support and dedication from the public that kept us going. You gave us hope that we would find Gaia.

“A year after her death, we must call on you again to help us find justice for her. We can’t do this without you.

“If you know anything that might aid the investigation into Gaia’s rape case or the missing persons investigation and help us learn the truth, please come forward; not just for Gaia’s sake, but for the sake of anyone else who might be at risk.”

The teenager was found dead near the Swanage coastal path, 11 days after she went missing Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA

Deborah Coles, director of campaign group Inquest, said: “Already one year on from Gaia’s disappearance, it is important that her family see a prompt and robust investigation.

“There has never been greater disquiet about victims of sexual violence being failed by statutory agencies.

“There is a clear link between the trauma of rape and mental ill health. The longer the delay in identifying any systemic failings, the greater the risk of more young women like Gaia dying.”

Miss Pope’s family have also organised #ArtForGaia, a creative project in her memory and asking people to upload their artwork to the website www.justiceforgaia.com/artforgaia and share it on Twitter with the hashtag #ArtForGaia.