DORSET Police are being investigated over their response into the disappearance of Gaia Pope-Sutherland.

Representatives for the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) - formerly the Independent Police Complaints Commission - confirmed today a probe has been launched.

Miss Pope-Sutherland, 19, was reported missing from Swanage by a family member on November 7 2017.

Clothing belonging to the teenager was found by members of the public in a field near Swanage on November 16. Miss Pope-Sutherland's body was discovered nearby two days later in undergrowth on a cliff top.

Her family have now said questions must be answered by the force.

Miss Pope-Sutherland was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder following a serious sexual assault committed against her when she was 17.

She had epilepsy and did not have her medication with her when she went missing.

Her mum Natasha Pope said: “My daughter should still be with us today.

"She was a survivor. She had a sharp wit, she was intelligent, compassionate and so courageous; she was magnificent.

"Gaia was inspired by the challenges she faced to work in health and social care and dedicate her life to others.

"She tried to carry on her education but her epilepsy was deteriorating as she remembered more about the sexual assault she had endured.

"In hospital she would speak about what she’d been through but it felt like no one outside our family wanted to listen.

"Now, our family has been torn apart.

"As a mother my heart will always be broken. As a woman, I’m determined to do all we can to make sure this never happens again.

"I will always be proud of Gaia’s courage but what she went through should not have cost my daughter her life.”

Miss Pope-Sutherland's sister Clara said: "In life, the systems that are meant to support people who’ve experienced sexual violence and mental health issues, undermined her and left her voiceless.

"But now she will be heard and things will change for the better in her name.”

Cousin Marienna Pope-Weidemann, who coordinated volunteers searching for Miss Pope-Sutherland, said: “When Gaia was missing we didn’t want anything to distract from the search, so we said nothing about how our family was treated by the police and how poorly they coordinated the incredible search effort by the community.

"But now we have to ask the tough questions: why did it take eleven days to find her? Could she have been saved? Could proper support from mental health and social services have stopped this whole tragedy before it started?

"This isn’t just about Gaia. How many women and girls have gone through this whose stories never make the papers? Gaia wanted justice for them and so do we. Time’s up.”

The IOPC investigation began after a referral was received from Dorset Police on February 23 following an internal review by the force.

Catrin Evans, the IOPC director with responsibility for Dorset Police, said: “My sympathies are with Gaia’s family and friends and everyone affected by her sad death.

“We are examining the actions and decisions of Dorset Police when dealing with the missing person report made in respect of a vulnerable young woman. We will also consider whether the force appropriately risk assessed, resourced and reviewed the missing person report.

“Our investigation will be thorough and we will keep Gaia’s family, the coroner and the force informed of our progress.”

Miss Pope-Sutherland's family have been backed by charity INQUEST.

Executive director Deborah Coles said: “There are serious questions about the actions of Dorset Police and their duty of care that this investigation must address. 

"Gaia was a vulnerable young woman, due to the trauma and mental and physical ill health she was experiencing as a victim of sexual assault.

"How her life could end this way deserves the utmost scrutiny. This family and the public need answers in the hope of preventing another young life lost.”

A Dorset Police spokesperson said: "We have an obligation to review incidents involving death or serious injury following police contact. This is an ongoing obligation.

"Following a review it was felt the mandatory criteria was met and this matter was referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)."