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Newcastle City Council: "Victims brave beyond belief"

Newcastle City Council has praised victims who came forward and gave evidence Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Victims whose testimonies helped convict 18 people of exploiting and abusing vulnerable women and girls have been praised by the leader of Newcastle City Council.

Councillor Nick Forbes said they had been “brave beyond belief” after 20 women and girls gave evidence - 2 as witnesses - in four trials at Newcastle Crown Court as part Operation Shelter.

More than 700 victims have been identified throughout the Northumbria force area as part of the wider Operation Sanctuary.

A Serious Case Review to establish what lessons can be learned and how to improve safeguarding will now report in December.

Those convicted under Shelter will be sentenced in early September.

"These were vile crimes committed against vulnerable women and girls as young as 14. The victims who went to court had to relive their ordeals in giving evidence and face their perpetrators. Some have suffered the trauma of having do it more than once. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult that must be, but I would like to pay tribute to each and every one of them.

They have been brave beyond belief and undoubtedly have made our safer city.”

– Cllr Nick Forbes
Operation Sanctuary was launched in 2014 Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Operation Sanctuary was launched in 2014 just weeks after a woman and a girl, who were not known to each other, reported similar accounts of abuse taking place in the West End of Newcastle.

The police and the council brought together a team of social workers, police officers and specialists in the Sexual Exploitation Hub set up in April 2015.

It has put measures in place such as:

  • Taxi licensing – 25 drivers’ licences have been suspended or revoked
  • All drivers must undergo safeguarding training around vulnerable passengers with 1,200
  • trained so far
  • Joint screening of licensing applications with the police
  • Door staff trained to recognise vulnerability
  • Inspectors of Houses of Multiple Occupation are trained to spot signs of exploitation
  • And 3,700 licensed vehicles have been stopped and checked

“My heart goes out to all victims of sexual exploitation. No one should underestimate the ordeal that these women and girls have gone through.

“We do not believe that what we have uncovered in Newcastle is unique.

Sadly, there is evidence of sexual exploitation in just about every other town and city in the country and anyone who says they do not have it are not looking for it. “In Newcastle we have left no stone unturned. All agencies will continue to work together to disrupt this and help those whose lives it wrecks. “Tackling this problem is everyone’s responsibility and let me assure anyone who is a victim that they can come forward and speak in confidence to a member of our Sexual Exploitation Hub who will make sure they get access to the high quality support services that they need.”

– Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council, Pat Richie

Pat Richie insists that Newcastle is a ‘safe city’ and that there is no indication that in this case there were any major failing in social services in Newcastle.

She went on to say that they acted as soon as they were approached with the information about alleged abuse and denies that they were ignored before the police got involved:

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