1. ITV Report

The operation that caught a gang preying on Newcastle’s vulnerable women

Operation Shelter became one of the biggest investigations in the history of the Northumbria Police force. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

‘Operation Shelter’ started in December 2013 after a vulnerable adult and a vulnerable young woman both confided in their social workers that they were being abused.

It became one of the biggest investigations in the history of the Northumbria Police force.

Every single hotel, guesthouse and taxi firm in Newcastle was visited by Northumbria Police as part of their investigation into the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and young girls.

50 police officers worked on Shelter full time over almost three years.

Operation Shelter was born out of Operation Sanctuary.

What is Operation Sanctuary?

Operation Sanctuary is a bigger wider ranging Northumbria Police investigation looking into allegations of sexual offences and sexual exploitation.

So far Operation Sanctuary has secured 96 convictions against 93 men. They have been sentenced to over 300 years in prison between them.

Northumbria Police say that since the start of Operation Sanctuary, which is still on-going, they have actively been looking for victims to come forward:

You do run out of adequate words to describe it but it is the most despicable a type of offending that you can possibly encounter. It is difficult.

The subject matter is challenging even for experienced hardened detectives. There are many of them that this can affect personally.

It is as serious as that. It will leave a mark.

– Chief Constable Steve Ashman, Northumbria Police

Chief Constable Steve Ashman from Northumbria Police says there is still some work to do to protect vulnerable young women and girls in the city of Newcastle:

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.

– Vera Baird, Northumbria Police andCrime Commissioner

Could Newcastle City Council have done more?

A serious case review has now been put in place by Newcastle City Council.

It’ll look at what lessons can be learnt following the conviction of 18 people for the sexual exploitation of women and girls – all of them vulnerable – who were plied with drink and drugs and then abused.

Two of the first people who came forward with allegations of sexual abuse did so to social services.

Me and the staff in social services did everything they could to support young women and adults in the case at Newcastle.

Adults who were particularly vulnerable to deal with the things that were happening to them and to come forward.

We did a number of things with vulnerable adults where we used the legal system to act as their guardians and to take them out of the situation there were in, to secure accommodation.

And that was all about disrupting what was going on and supporting the victims.

– Pat Ritchie, Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council

Pat Ritchie 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.

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