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Successful outcomes to ‘Operation Sanctuary’ – huge praise to victims who testified – PCC says work to prevent and detect sexual exploitation ‘will not stop here’

9th August 2017

A series of trials at Newcastle Crown Court under the banners Operation Sanctuary and Operation Shelter ended today and reporting restrictions have been lifted. Successful convictions were obtained for 93 offences of sexual exploitation against vulnerable females with some related drugs and other offences. These were the outcome of a complex series of Northumbria Police operations carried out over the past 3 and a half years into trafficking and sexual exploitation in Newcastle.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, today singled out for praise 20 victims of sexual exploitation who gave evidence against these men as part of Operation Shelter.

‘My thanks and those of the people of Northumbria go out today to these brave women for the tremendous fortitude they showed in relating their often appalling experiences to the court and enduring  cross examination in order to convict dangerous sex offenders.  Some victims were as young as 14 years but others who were older were targeted because of other vulnerabilities.

‘There should be praise too for the partnership working of Northumbria Police and Newcastle City Council. Both are learning organisations and will expect to benefit from the scrutiny of the serious case review which will follow.’

Northumbria Police were alerted to incidents of sexual offending by two young women three and a half years ago and launched Operation Sanctuary within weeks. From the start the focus was on disrupting activity, rescuing and safeguarding victims and fully investigation offences. Police have worked in close partnership with Newcastle City Council, establishing a multi-agency hub to support victims’ needs. More than 50 officers have been dedicated to this work, and neighbourhood police have worked hard in engaging the local community and gathering intelligence.

782 potential complainants were identified through a range of investigative measures and were approached, in the first instance, by partner agencies from the  voluntary and community sector. 278 were identified as victims and offered support. Many chose to engage with police and to give statements giving rise to further police activity and through close working with CPS culminating in the prosecutions which have ended today with 93 convictions and sentences of imprisonment sometimes in double figures.

‘The police have pulled no punches, this was serious crime and it was treated as such from the outset. The complexities are obvious, the determination to overturn every last stone and investigate to the nth degree what was under is was right and exactly what was required.

‘On two occasions I have presented Operation Sanctuary to Government, at 10 Downing Street as a model for disrupting and detecting sexual exploitation and it is regarded as best practice nationally.

‘I was made aware, in course of the trials that to facilitate this operation, Northumbria Police had intermittently used a paid, registered informant.  This man was a criminal, with a conviction for rape as a teenager, and with later convictions for dishonesty and other offences which gave him access into the same circles as these exploiters. In 2016 this man turned against police making allegations of misconduct. A full investigation was held by IPCC who found that Northumbria Police had no case to answer. An application by the defence to stop the trials on the basis of use of the informant was rejected by HH Judge Moreland and the trials continued. The Office of the Surveillance Commissioner oversees the use of such policing methods and has raised no criticism. HMIC have praised Northumbria Police for Operation Sanctuary and for their approach to safeguarding of these victims.

‘The decision to use this informant was an operational one, which could only be taken by police. However, I have a duty on behalf of the public of Northumbria to hold the Chief Constable to account for a matter which concerns a sum of public money and an issue of the highest public interest.

I would have wished this man not to be used, in particular because of his conviction for rape. But, I have questioned the Chief Constable and in liaison with other senior officers, Mr Ashman has satisfied me that the difficult moral decision to use the informant was taken with care and with particular regard to the welfare of victims. I am assured that the information this male supplied has contributed to the investigation and hence to the prosecution of these dangerous men, that it could not have been obtained in any other way, and that it will have ensured the speedier rescue and safeguarding of vulnerable women who would otherwise have continued to suffer abuse.

‘This joint work in preventing, disrupting and prosecuting sexual exploitation of the vulnerable will not stop here. The streets of Newcastle are now safer for women and girls after the imprisonment of so many perpetrators and the improved awareness of communities to the prevalence of exploitation this Operation has brought. There are a number of projects underway to make both potential victims and the public ever more aware of the risks of sexual exploitation and to improve safeguarding against it. If we continue to work together we can defeat this criminality and root sexual abuse of the vulnerable out of our society entirely.’