The Dorset teenager Gaia Pope, who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after she was allegedly drugged and raped, was sexually harassed while being treated on a mixed psychiatric ward, an inquest jury has heard.
Pope informed staff that a male patient on the ward at St Ann’s hospital in Poole made explicit sexual comments and suggestions and tried to hug her but jurors were told that no safeguarding referral was made.
Dr Dinesh Kannan, a consultant psychiatrist who assessed Pope on the Seaview Ward, described what happened to the teenager there as a “peril of the mixed ward” but admitted a referral should have been made.
Pope was allegedly raped in 2014 when she was 16 after her drink was spiked. She reported the alleged attack and, although police investigated, the alleged rapist was not charged. In 2016, she was diagnosed with PTSD.
In November 2017, Pope, 19, who had epilepsy, vanished from her hometown of Swanage and her body was found on a clifftop 11 days later. She is believed to have died of hypothermia.
On Wednesday, the jury heard how nine months before her death, in February 2017, Pope experienced a severe epileptic seizure and what appeared to be a psychotic episode.
The court heard she had been contacted by her alleged attacker and had a “revelation” that he was “at large”. She was assessed under the Mental Health Act at the Seaview Ward.
Pope told a nurse she had been the target of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment from a male patient, jurors heard. The court was told the patient allegedly made comments about his and her private parts, asked her to go to the gym so he could look at her breasts and tried to hug her.
Kannan, who oversaw Pope’s care on the ward, said: “I’m deeply sorry for what Gaia had to endure” and added: “We should have considered raising a safeguarding alert.”
Pope made light of what happened to her, saying she knew self-defence and had “been through a lot worse”, and joking that she felt sorry for the man’s girlfriend.
The teenager spent eight days in the hospital, run by Dorset HealthCare University NHS foundation trust, and was discharged with 14 days’ worth of the anti-anxiety medication diazepam.
Kannan told the jury he accepted there was a “close link” between Pope’s epilepsy and her mental health issues. He accepted it would have been “good practice” for him or his colleagues to speak to neurologists who were working with Pope for her epilepsy but this did not happen.
“That was a missed opportunity,” Kannan said. “We should have liaised. The communication could have been much better.”
Another psychiatrist, Ramesh Hariyapureddy, told the jury he also accepted this was a “missed opportunity”. He also said it would have been “very helpful” to speak to Pope’s cousin, Marienna Pope-Weidemann, who repeatedly tried to talk to psychiatrists about the teenager’s case. But this, too, did not happen.
The inquest in Bournemouth continues.
+ In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.