Operation Sanctuary is a Northumbria Police led investigation into allegations of a series of sexual offences linked to sexual exploitation.
As part of the Sanctuary investigations, Operation Shelter was created as a subsidiary operation, falling under the Operation Sanctuary umbrella, has specifically investigated the sexual exploitation of children and adults with vulnerabilities in the west end of Newcastle upon Tyne.
After a three-and-a-half-year exhaustive investigation into sexual exploitation, 17 men and one woman have been convicted for their involvement in the exploitation. This would not have been possible without the courage of those young women abused by the perpetrators.
The men have been convicted as part of Operation Sanctuary which was launched by the force in December 2013. Since July 2015 the trials have been subject to reporting restrictions meaning the force and media have been unable to report on the investigation.
The NWG has offered support to Northumbria Police and partners throughout the duration of the investigations and would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the strategic commitment to seek justice and operational endeavour of all those involved.
The 4 years spent investigating child sexual exploitation and bringing those responsible to justice, demonstrates the complexities and scale of investigation required to address this heinous form of abuse.
We understand the concerns raised regarding payments to a convicted sex offender who acted as an informant for the police. The use of covert tactics in CSE investigations is fraught with pitfalls and it’s effectiveness questionable in this case.
Victims of abuse will quite understandably be offended by a perpetrator receive significant financial reward, while in some cases they face a struggle to access compensation for the horrific abuse they have suffered. However, we hope this issue will not detract from the efforts of professionals in pursuing this investigation.
It is important not only to recognise the dedication of professionals involved in the case, but also the incredible bravery and strength of character shown by the victims, who have had to relive their traumatic experiences during the court process.
The timescales relating to Operation Sanctuary are a timely reminder that there are no quick fixes in dealing with child sexual exploitation, and in order to ensure the best possible outcomes for victims, there is a clear need for investment in resources and commitment at a strategic level.
This large-scale nature of this investigation, which stemmed from a single police enquiry, reinforces the message from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner several years ago, that if you look for CSE, you will find it.
It is to the credit of Northumbria Police and their partners that substantial professional curiosity was applied to the initial call raising concerns, which has led to the unearthing of abuse on a significant scale.
All professionals engaged in tackling CSE should be encouraged and supported to show a similar level of curiosity to ensure no child slips through the net.
The successful outcomes of the court cases relating to Operation Sanctuary, once again demonstrate the need for a partnership approach – no single agency alone is responsible for addressing this type of abuse and the best outcomes for victims are always achieved through a multi-agency response.
The inclusion, as part of Operation Sanctuary, of investigations into the sexual exploitation of vulnerable adults, demonstrates risk of sexual exploitation does not arbitrarily end when children turn 18.
The NWG has seen first hand the innovative and effective approaches utilised in Newcastle to support vulnerable adults, and older children and young people, affected by sexual exploitation. The NWG hopes the successful outcome of the trials will encourage agencies, locally and nationally to learn from the approaches used to support the investigative process.
The successful prosecution of those involved in the horrific abuse of vulnerable people should send a message to others involved in sexual exploitation that they will be exposed and held accountable for their crimes.
We hope the guilty verdicts provide some closure for the victims of abuse, however we recognise that the impact of sexual exploitation can be lifelong, and support for the victims must continue long beyond the conclusion of legal proceeding.