Operation Sanctuary

Victims whose testimonies helped convict 18 sex offenders in a series of trials were praised today by the leader of Newcastle City Council.

Cllr Nick Forbes said they had been “brave beyond belief” after 22 women and girls had given evidence in four trials at Newcastle Crown Court as part Operation Shelter.

Shelter is one of several operations by Northumbria Police under the umbrella of Operation Sanctuary – a complex investigation launched three years ago into modern day slavery, trafficking and sexual exploitation force-wide.

In 2015 a judge imposed reporting restrictions for legal reasons on all Sanctuary trials. Now that the four key trials under Shelter have come to an end the reporting restrictions have been lifted.

Newcastle City Council has worked closely with Northumbria Police since Operation Sanctuary was launched in early 2014 to disrupt sexual exploitation and help bring perpetrators to justice.

More than 700 victims have been identified throughout the Northumbria force area as part of Sanctuary, and a Serious Case Review to establish what lessons can be learned and how to improve safeguarding will report in December.

Cllr Forbes said: “These were vile crimes committed by evil men 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.”

Those convicted under Shelter will be sentenced in early September.

Operation Sanctuary was launched in 2014 just weeks after a woman and a girl – 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 provides a dedicated multi-agency approach to support victims and investigate allegations.

Simultaneously, the council is disrupting sexual exploitation through a range of other functions:

  • 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

Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council, Pat Ritchie, said: “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.”

Anyone who is a victim of sexual exploitation, or who knows someone who is, can contact 01661 869 124.

Parents or carers who wish to talk to someone about a child who may be being sexually exploited can ring Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation PACE on 01132405226.