Detective rejects Gaia family’s claims over police inquiry, inquest hears

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Devoto said he had ‘no concerns’ about the inquiry when he was appointed senior investigating officer.

Gaia Pope-Sutherland
Gaia Pope-Sutherland

A senior detective has denied claims he told the family of missing teenager Gaia Pope-Sutherland that he took over the investigation because it had been badly run, an inquest heard.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Devoto said in fact he had “no concerns” about the inquiry when he was appointed senior investigating officer five days after the 19-year-old was last seen alive.

The teenager, who suffered from severe epilepsy, was reported missing from her home in Swanage on November 7 2017.

Dorset Coroner’s Court heard Mr Devoto was appointed to lead the investigation on November 12 after it was classified as a homicide and handed to officers from the major crime investigation team.

At the request of the Pope-Sutherland family, Mr Devoto met with them on November 17 to discuss the investigation.

Gaia Pope-Sutherland was found dead near a coastal path in Swanage, Dorset, 11 days after going missing in November 2017 (Dorset Police/PA)
Dorset Police launched a search operation after Gaia Pope-Sutherland was reported missing (Dorset Police/PA)

Richard Sutherland had previously told the inquest that during the meeting the detective told him he had taken over because he was “not happy” with the way the inquiry was being run.

Sarah Clarke QC, counsel to the inquest, asked Mr Devoto about Mr Sutherland’s comments.

He replied: “Those comments were not said, and I had no concerns about the investigation.”

Miss Clarke asked: “As far as you’re concerned, that wasn’t said?”

“Absolutely not,” he replied.

“(The purpose of the meeting was to) update Mr Sutherland on the investigation and he had a number of questions that he wanted answered.

“Mr Sutherland was very polite, very calm and the information I gave I felt he was acknowledging it and that he appreciated it and after the meeting we shook hands, and I didn’t feel there were any issues.”

The teenager's body was found near the coast 11 days after she went missing (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Gaia Pope-Sutherland was found dead near a coastal path in Swanage 11 days after going missing in November 2017 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The teenager’s father had suggested Mr Devoto was “hostile” during the meeting, which the officer also rejected.

Mr Devoto explained that Mr Sutherland had been accompanied by two other people, one of whom became “very loud and very aggressive”.

“I had to remind her that the object of the meeting was for me to give an update to Mr Sutherland and if she continued then we would have to go into another office,” he said.

“With that she behaved appropriately and allowed me to update Mr Sutherland and he then had a series of questions that he wants answered, we shook hands and he went on his way.”

Miss Clarke asked: “As far as you were concerned did you behave in a hostile way?”

He replied: “No, not at all.”

Police investigating Ms Pope-Sutherland's disappearance undertake a fingertip search
Police carry out a fingertip search in the investigation into Gaia Pope-Sutherland’s disappearance (Andrew Matthews/PA)

After the college student was reported missing a large search operation was launched in the Swanage area for the teenager, including police, HM Coastguard, the National Police Air Service, Dorset Search and Rescue, and members of the public.

On November 18, her body was found by police search teams in undergrowth between Dancing Ledge and Anvil Point.

The inquest continues.

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