An inquest into the death of a teenager whose disappearance sparked a major police inquiry will take place next year – nearly five years after her death.
Senior Dorset Coroner Rachael Griffin said Gaia Pope’s inquest would begin on April 25 2022 and could last up to three months.
The teenager, who suffered from severe epilepsy, was found dead in undergrowth 11 days after she was reported missing from her home near Swanage in Dorset in November 2017.
The 19-year-old’s disappearance prompted a massive campaign from family and friends to find her.
During the police investigation, three people – two men aged 19 and 49 and a 71-year-old woman – were arrested. They were released without any further action being taken.
Miss Pope’s inquest had been due to start in May this year but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
During a pre-inquest review at the Town Hall in Bournemouth, Ms Griffin fixed a start date of April 25 after hearing representations from legal representatives of various interested parties.
The inquest will be held with a jury and conducted under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to consider “how and in what circumstances” Miss Pope died.
The jury will hear evidence of what Dorset Police did from November 7, the day Miss Pope disappeared, until November 11, at which point she was likely to have already died.
They will also consider evidence of Miss Pope’s epilepsy, her mental health, particularly the impact upon her of an alleged rape she suffered aged 16.
Dorset Police took no further action in relation to that allegation and her family say she developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder following that decision.
Ms Griffin said she had been informed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which is investigating Dorset Police’s handling of the alleged rape allegation and Miss Pope’s disappearance, of “potential further evidence that has come to light”.
“I am not going to disclose that at this moment in time or the nature of that evidence. I have asked the IOPC to make further inquiries,” she said.
During Thursday’s hearing, the coroner confirmed she would be instructing an expert to provide a report on possible links between Miss Pope’s epilepsy and her mental health.
“Everybody is keen to have this inquest finalised as soon as possible,” she said.
“I acknowledge that the issues relating to the listing of this inquest relate to avoiding disruption to the inquest for a number of reasons.
“They include the commitment of those involved in this inquest, the impact of the inquest upon Gaia’s family, the impact of the anniversary of Gaia’s death and the impact of Covid-19.
“I acknowledge some of these matters are known but some are unknown, such as the future of Covid-19, and we are working in an unprecedented time.”
Ms Griffin said she was granting an application for an expert report to “consider the interconnection between Gaia’s epilepsy and her mental health and the adequacy of her treatment and management”.
“It is very important to highlight that obtaining an expert opinion and report does not mean it will be relied upon at the inquest, but it affords an opportunity to explore the issues raised,” she said.
“I am concerned if these issues are not addressed in advance of the inquest hearing questions may arise at the inquest hearing that cannot be answered and may lead to delays occurring.
“My duty is also to consider the position regarding future deaths and consider the interaction in the circumstances of Gaia’s care between the different public services involved.”
Further pre-inquest hearings will take place on May 19 and September 10.
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