AN INQUEST into the death of a Dorset teenager will take place months later than planned – and is expected to hear from more than 150 witnesses over eight weeks.

Dorset Coroner, Rachael Griffin, held a pre-inquest hearing yesterday to decide the factors that would be considered during the full inquest into Gaia Pope-Sutherland’s death.

The 19-year-old, from Swanage, was found near the Dorset coastal path in November 2017 – 11 days after she went missing – following a major search.

The hearing at Bournemouth Town Hall was told that Miss Pope-Sutherland's personal and medical history, mental health treatment and actions of Dorset Police when she was first reported missing were among the factors that would be considered in the full inquest.

Mrs Griffin also said she would take into consideration the fact that Miss Pope-Sutherland had reported she was raped in 2015 due to the impact this had on her mental health. However, she said it was her professional view that the Dorset Police investigation into the matter does not fall within the scope of the inquest.

Dorset Police investigated her allegation of rape but decided to take no further action. The force was reported to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) over the way it handled the rape allegation and Miss Pope-Sutherland's disappearance.

The full inquest had been scheduled to take place in January next year. But it is now set to take place in May 2021 due to delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as on the request of relatives because of the volume of evidence that needs to be reviewed.

Yesterday’s hearing was held after two scheduled pre-inquest hearings were cancelled over the summer.

The initial opening of the inquest, which took place in February 2018, heard Miss Pope-Sutherland died of hypothermia.

The teenager had severe epilepsy and was living in Swanage when she went missing.

Her body was discovered in undergrowth on the cliff top between Dancing Ledge and Anvil Point to the west of Swanage.

Her disappearance prompted a campaign from family and friends who spent days scouring the town and surrounding area along with police and coastguards.

'We hope the end is in sight', say family

Speaking after the hearing, Miss Pope-Sutherland's cousin, Marienna Pope-Wiedemann, said: “We asked the coroner to delay Gaia’s inquest and we would like to thank her from the bottom of our hearts for granting that request.

“If you’d told us last year that we’d have asked for that delay we wouldn’t have believed you. November 7 will mark the third anniversary of Gaia’s disappearance. No one is worse affected by the delays than her family and friends. The waiting, the constant need to revisit and scrutinise every detail the most unimaginably painful chapter of our lives, it’s agony.

“On a personal level, we want nothing more than for this to be over. But truth and justice matter more. Gaia deserves the full and fearless inquest that she was promised and if there are steps that need to be taken to better protect others in our community then they deserve that, too.

“We hope at least now that the end is in sight, that this new timetable will be kept to and that the extra time will be used effectively to carry out that full and fearless investigation which would allow us, at long last, a chance to breathe.”