What happened to Gaia Pope and where was she found?

The tragic death of a Dorset teenager is the subject of a new BBC Three documentary Gaia: A Death on Dancing Ledge

Gaia Pope and Zara McDermott
(Image credit: BBC Pictures)

Real-life documentary fans are wondering what happened to Gaia Pope and where was she found as a moving three-part BBC Three show is set to air. 

In the programme Former Love Island star Zara McDermott attempts to understand and shed light on the tragic circumstances around the death of Dorset teenager, Gaia Pope-Sutherland.

Gaia: A Death on Dancing Ledge will delve into the case of Gaia Pope-Sutherland, highlighting the families’ search for truth and justice. Gaia was just 19 years old when she died in November 2017, and this revealing new series tracks the events leading up to her death and explores the failings and oversights by officials, including the police and health care professionals, involved in her care. 

The documentary will hear directly from Gaia’s friends and family about her life and the circumstances that led to her death, as well as from the former Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset at the time of her death. 

We look at all you need to know...

What happened to Gaia Pope?

Gaia Pope died of hypothermia after running away from home while suffering a mental health crisis, a post-mortem examination revealed. An inquest into the teenager's death took place at Bournemouth Town Hall, led by Coroner Rachael Griffin. It also concluded that a failure to provide follow-up care after Gaia was discharged from hospital weeks before she went missing may also have been a factor in causing her death.

Gaia had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after revealing she had been drugged and raped by a man when she was 16. It's understood that relatives told the inquest that she felt police did not believe her when she reported it and that pursuing any complaint would have been traumatic.

Gaia received hospital treatment in February and March 2017 but she was sexually harassed by a patient after being sectioned following a seizure and developing psychosis. Later that year, she was assessed at Poole Hospital and discharged in October without any community support.

Furthermore, Gaia was reportedly feeling anxious on the day of her disappearance after being told her alleged rapist would be released from prison where he was incarcerated for other sex offences.

Gaia’s older sister, Clara, twin sister Maya, Mum Kim and Dad Richard, have spoken out about the importance of speaking about mental health with children and youngsters, saying, “Gaia would have been 25 earlier this month, our hearts ache thinking about everything she was and all the possibilities of what she could have become. With the release of this series, we’re clinging on to the hope that we can be part of the change Gaia so desperately needed. 

“We want young people and survivors watching to know that they are not alone; there are people and organisations that will listen to and support you. In speaking up, united we can eliminate the perpetuation of rape culture in society and hold the authorities that are meant to protect us to account.” 

Gaia Pope-Sutherland

(Image credit: BBC Pictures)

Where was Gaia Pope found?

Gaia Pope was found in undergrowth on a clifftop between Dancing Ledge and Anvil Point in Dorset on November 18, 2017. Her body was found 11 days after she went missing in Swanage, Dorset. 

Zara McDermott, TV presenter and documentary maker said, "When I first heard about the disappearance of 19-year-old Gaia on the news in 2017, I was immediately struck by her story. She and I were the same age. I saw Gaia’s face on the news for days and days after this, and it really struck a chord with me. A young woman with the world at her feet, yet her life was over before it had even begun."

As Zara speaks to a number of those closely involved in the case and attempts to piece the puzzle together, she continues to tackle the themes she has explored in her other hit documentary films for the BBC including Disorder Eating, Uncovering Rape Culture and Revenge Porn.

She added, "I began diving deeper into Gaia’s story, alongside her brave family, and I uncovered a huge amount in the year and a half I spent down in Dorset. This young woman needed a voice, and I wanted to tell her story.”

A swimmer dives into a sea pool at Dancing Ledge, part of the Dorset Jurassic Coast near Langton Matravers, on July 24, 2012 near Swanage, England

(Image credit: Getty)

Clare Sillery, head of documentary commissioning at the BBC, added, “We are delighted to give a platform to this incredibly important and timely documentary series and for Gaia’s story to be front and centre. It follows on from the hugely poignant subjects that Zara McDermott has delved into already in her filmmaking for the BBC and looks at whether enough was done to protect Gaia and other young women and girls, exploring the impact on those closest to Gaia. We hope the series will contribute to a very important conversation about what needs to change in the future.”

Check out these articles for more details on how to talk to children about mental health, for more articles on childhood mental health or to discover five podcasts for better mental health.

Gaia: Dancing on a Ledge - all three episodes will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer on Tue 25th July, with episode one airing on BBC Three that evening, episode two airing Wed 26th and episode three airing Thursday 27th July.

Selina Maycock
Senior Family Writer

Selina is a Senior Family Writer for GoodtoKnow and has more than 16 years years of experience. She specialises in royal family news, including the latest activities of Prince George, Charlotte, Louis, Archie and Lilibet. She also covers the latest government, health and charity advice for families. Selina graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2006 with a degree in Journalism, and gained her NCTJ and NCE qualifications. During her career, she’s also written for Woman, Woman's Own, Woman&Home, and Woman's Weekly as well as Heat magazine, Bang Showbiz - and the Scunthorpe Telegraph. When she's not covering family news, you can find her exploring new countryside walking routes, catching up with friends over good food, or making memories (including award-winning scarecrows!)