News

Operation Sanctuary Update

09 Aug 2017 15:00 PM

Offender photos montage (1) [View Full Size]

Today has seen the conclusion of a complex series of trials that represent a significant milestone in Operation Sanctuary – a widespread investigation into Sexual Exploitation in the Northumbria Police force area.

The investigation, which was launched at the start of 2014, has been the largest and most intricate series of operations the force has ever dealt with.

On conclusion of today’s trial Chief Constable Steve Ashman made the following statement.

He said:  “This investigation all began after one initial police enquiry in December 2013, an enquiry which led to the significant uncovering of sexual abuse which was being hidden away in our community.

“Whilst we were aware of some similar offending against vulnerable women and girls on a small scale we did not know the true scale of this at that time. An enormous amount of effort went in at the very outset to proactively find other potential victims. This strategy involved the voluntary sector and the local authority and has proven to be hugely successful in giving victims the confidence they need to step forward.

“By the end of January 2014, Operation Sanctuary was set up and we had already made nearly 30 arrests. To date we have arrested 461 people, spoken to 782 potential complainants and have found 278 victims. In total we now have 93 convictions delivering more than 300 years of imprisonment in addition to today’s convictions.

“I must start by praising the absolute bravery, dignity and composure of the victims throughout this incredibly gruelling process. Many of us will never understand the traumatic experience some of these women and girls have endured and they have my wholehearted commitment that, together with our partners, we will continue to provide them with all the support they need. They have trusted us and we must not let them down.

“From the outset this has been about doing what is right and placing the victims at the heart of the investigation. We have pro-actively sought out victims of abuse to protect them. We have done this together with our partners from the local authority and with a number of voluntary agencies. We have sought, through the brand of Operation Sanctuary, to raise public awareness here in the North East of the problem of, not just Child Sexual Exploitation but, the wider problem of the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and girls and human trafficking. We have enlisted and received the support of licensed premises, late night refreshment premises, taxi drivers, hotels, B&Bs as well as the general public.

“We have thrown the kitchen sink at this, a team of 50 officers have worked on this enquiry for almost three and a half years and continue to do so. We have not stopped and will not stop. We have employed every technique available to us both covert and overt, in tackling the problem. We have been transparent in our approach and, where we encountered misconduct on the part of a police officer who had completely failed in his duty, he was dismissed. Whilst nothing is perfect in an operation of this magnitude I am content that we have worked to the best of our professional ability.

“There has been no political correctness here. These are criminals and there has been no hesitation in arresting them and targeting them using all the means at our disposal. It is for individual communities to ask themselves whether they are doing all they can to eradicate such attitudes and behaviour so that the stigma and shame attached to such people prevents it from rearing its head again. The communities that we work with are appalled at this offending and we have encountered nothing other than the fullest of support from them all.

“We know concerns have been raised about our use of a Police Informant known as XY.

 “XY was an authorised Covert Human Intelligence Source (CHIS), an informant, who was able to report on criminality including CSE.  He was a convicted rapist and to some of us the thought of the police engaging with such a person and paying them for information may appear repugnant, however he proved he was in a position whereby he could, and did, alert police to situations which allowed them to prevent offending and provide safeguarding measures towards potential victims.  The lawful and regulated use of such tactics is always overseen by a senior police officer and is also subject to review by an independent body. Furthermore, in this case the handling of XY by Northumbria Police was the subject of an independent investigation by the IPCC in which no misconduct was found nor were any recommendations made.

“In the case of XY it is clear that his relationships with others have allowed the police to prevent and detect some of the most serious crimes occurring in our communities, this would not have been possible through conventional methods.

“The sexual exploitation of vulnerable people is in my opinion the challenge of our generation. It is a huge task that we are faced with. To date Operation Sanctuary has been the most complex investigation in this forces’ history and has not stopped. There is a wider debate to be had as to how this is to be tackled moving forward.

“Firstly, for this challenge to be overcome there needs to be a high likelihood that offenders will be caught and victims supported. I am confident that we are getting this right, we will never stop pursuing those responsible, and we will throw everything we can at them and we will catch them.

“Secondly, we need a heavy sanction that acts as a clear deterrent and delivers punishment to those vile individuals that prey on the vulnerable.

“Thirdly, and most importantly, it has to become socially unacceptable in every community to behave in this way. Given the number of men that we have arrested 461 in total, clearly somewhere something has gone wrong if it has become acceptable to entice, through alcohol, drugs or just through bullying and violence, vulnerable people into sex.

“This behaviour can never be tolerated.”

Overview of the impact on victims

Victims revealed they had been raped, exploited or sexually abused while intoxicated by either drink or drugs, often both.

On occasions the victims were so inebriated that they were abused while they were unconscious.  

The girls met the men through other friends and social media. One girl described a friend as having so many people in her phone that it was “unreal”. Most were saved under nicknames.

The men would contact the girls at all hours of the day and night. They would even contact them in the early hours of the morning and they would persistently plead with them to go to an address to “chill” with them or would invite them to parties, which were described as “sessions”.

The men would message the girls to say they had alcohol and drugs for them and would pay for taxis to collect them.  They would be bought vodka, MCAT and cocaine.

Victims would wake up with men raping them or sexually assaulting them.

Some of the victims are now too frightened to be involved in any relationships because of the abuse they have suffered, describing it as “scaring her for the rest of her goddamn life”. 

Help and Advice?

If anyone feels they have been a victim of sexual exploitation or have been affected by the issues that have been raised they can contact Northumbria Police on a dedicated number 01661 869 124 which is active until Saturday, August 12. Any calls after this time can be directed to 101.