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Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird secures Home Office funding

2nd April 2015

Safeguarding people against sexual exploitation, preventing abuse and tackling perpetrators will all be hugely boosted following a successful bid to the Home Office for funding by Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird.

She has secured a total of £1.3m from the Police Innovation Fund to launch Project Sanctuary.The new development will be closely linked with the recently launched Victims First Northumbria, which will support all victims.

Building on the ongoing Operation Sanctuary, investigating crimes of a sexual nature against vulnerable women and girls, it will also tackle the wider issues of child exploitation, vulnerability and modern day slavery.

Two multi-agency teams will be established to cover the north and south of the force area working from community-based hubs.

The hubs will bring together police with a broad range of partner agencies, including those from the voluntary sector, and have dedicated social workers.

In keeping with the success of Operation Sanctuary, police and social workers will work jointly to support victims to ensure there is active engagement and access to specialist services at the earliest opportunity.

A Detective Inspector will manage each hub and lead a victim care team made up of a Detective Sergeant and Detective Constables. Further officers will work in an intelligence cell which will also include an analyst to gather and evaluate any information received.

The funding will also introduce a new role of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Social Work Co-ordinator to oversee social work activity. Other coordinators will exist in the hub such as a missing from home co-ordinator to look at the joint investigation into missing children and vulnerable adults and a family support worker to manage support plans for vulnerable families working alongside social services.

Project Sanctuary will start in the north of the area with the creation of a Newcastle-based hub incorporating North Tyneside and Northumberland. A southern hub will follow and be based in Sunderland to include the Gateshead and South Tyneside areas.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird said: “Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults is a major element in helping to reduce the harm to those that need the most help in our communities.

“It’s an absolute priority for me that those who find themselves caught up in a situation where they are being exploited and are fearful or too intimidated to do anything about it are identified and brought to safety and perpetrators are firmly dealt with.

“By bringing all these agencies together under one roof, we have joint expertise to identify victims, give them the help they desperately need plus target those responsible.

“Working together, we will do all we can to stop these appalling offences, give victims the courage to come forward and make our communities safer.”

Deputy Chief Constable Steve Ashman said: “Operation Sanctuary is a wide ranging investigation into many different crimes of a sexual nature against vulnerable women and girls and this is continuing.

“Project Sanctuary allows dedicated teams to look at the wider issues of child exploitation, vulnerability and modern day slavery using key learning from Operation Sanctuary.

“As with Operation Sanctuary, officers will take a victim-focused approach to ensure their needs are addressed and that they feel confident and comfortable to talk to us about the issues they have faced allowing us to find those responsible for it.

“The welfare of victims is always a priority and we will work closely with partner agencies within the hub system to ensure they are given all the support they need to cope and recover from their experience.

“As always, I would encourage anyone who has suffered such a crime to report it to police. They will be believed and they will be supported.

“We have had tremendous support from the public and businesses through Operation Sanctuary and I’m hopeful this will continue in this new project.

“I would urge people to be vigilant and if something doesn’t look or feel right I would ask them to contact us.

“By working together, we can continue to ensure out towns and cities are safe places to live, work and visit.”

People can contact police on 101, extension 69191.