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Friday, 23 February 2018
Newcastle gangs abused adults and children with arrogant persistence, review finds
One perpetrator showed no remorse and "spoke in a derogatory way about lack of morals in British girls", an investigation finds.
By Sally Lockwood, North of England Correspondent
Grooming gangs that preyed on 700 girls and vulnerable young women carried out their abuse with "arrogant persistence", a review has found.
Perpetrators were not consistently investigated and so effectively went unpunished before a major operation into sexual exploitation in Newcastle was launched to stop them.
Prior to 2014, there was little understanding of the widespread sexual abuse in deprived areas of Newcastle and Gateshead.
The 150-page report said: "This sent an unhelpful message to perpetrators - they were unlikely to be prosecuted or prevented from continuing to abuse - encouraging an arrogant persistence.
"It also had a significant impact on victims who learnt that nothing would be done against perpetrators."
In Christmas 2013, a 21-year-old woman with a learning disability began to speak to her social worker about being subjected to sexual abuse over a considerable period of time.
With some encouragement, the victim gave a statement to police identifying places she had been taken.
From here, it emerged that this young woman was one of hundreds of victims - sounding alarm bells with local authorities and the police.
According to the report's author, adults were vulnerable to abuse as well as children - and there was no difference in how both were targeted for sexual exploitation.
Instead, it is about vulnerability. Many of the victims did not realise they were victims for years.
"One of them gave a quite chilling account," said report author David Spicer, as he described why one victim chose to talk about her experiences.
"Young girls were coming straight from school in school uniforms with school bags. And that was a trigger for her that she realised what was happening shouldn't be happening."
The report examines sexual exploitation in Newcastle between 2007 and 2015.
Operation Sanctuary was the largest sex abuse investigation carried out by Northumbria Police and resulted in hundreds of arrests with more than 700 potential victims coming forward.
Four trials at Newcastle Crown Court heard how vulnerable girls were groomed by men who gave them alcohol and drugs before raping them at parties.
At the final trial, 17 men and one woman were convicted of charges including rape, supplying drugs and inciting prostitution.
The report author invited all of those convicted to be interviewed in his review. Only one agreed.
"There was a complete lack of remorse," said Mr Spicer, who cannot identify which abuser he interviewed.
"In fact he didn't accept that he'd done anything wrong... He felt the victims were responsible for their own abuse."
The report continued: "If convicted for rape in his home country, he would be beheaded or buried up to the neck and stoned.
"He was asked about what he thought about the United Kingdom and influences in his education.
"He said you can get anything here - any sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no control. He spoke in a derogatory way about lack of morals in British girls and did not go with Muslim girls because there are not many of them."
This review was unable to establish a true understanding of the offending carried out by perpetrators.
Northumbria Police were revealed to have paid a convicted child rapist £10,000 to inform on sexual predators in Operation Sanctuary.
The tactic was heavily criticised, but the review says it sends a message to perpetrators that people will inform against them.
Acting Chief Constable Darren Best said: "We will use all available lawful and proportional tactics to tackle abuse and we make no apologies for doing that... there's a fine line we have to tread with the public's best interests at heart."
The abuse of children does not stop when they reach 18 and learning to identify adult victims is a challenge for authorities.
Some women even have children with their abusers and are too frightened to come forward.
The leader of Newcastle City Council, Pat Ritchie, is urging all local authorities to look at this report: "The way that these men prey on women and girls is seeing vulnerability.
"This sort of a crime is one that is based on fear and exploitation of people who are vulnerable and by its nature the sort of relationship at the heart of this sort of crime is controlling, it's threatening, it's very difficult to break out of the cycle that these women were in. And they're frightened."