Council-led safeguarding hub helps smash child sex abuse ring

Tristan Donovan
Thursday, August 10, 2017

A multi-agency hub bringing together social workers, police and health professionals has helped convict 18 members of a child sex abuse ring.

Newcastle City Council formed its Sexual Exploitation Hub in April 2015 in response to the launch of Northumbria Police's anti-child sexual exploitation initiative Operation Sanctuary.

The hub's team offered support to the victims of the abusers and helped gather the evidence that led to 18 people being convicted on Wednesday of various crimes including child rape, inciting prostitution for gain, human trafficking, digital penetration and supplying drugs.

Some 22 women and girls gave evidence in four trials, which formed the Operation Shelter strand of Operation Sanctuary.

The victims, some as young as 14, were abused at parties known as "sessions" where they would be plied with alcohol and drugs before being forced to have sex. Some victims were raped and abused while unconscious from the drink and drugs.

The hub's team includes a team manager, two senior practitioners, five social workers and a health nurse. There are also police officers dealing with intelligence and investigations plus voluntary sector representatives from Changing Lives and Barnardo's. In addition, young women's charity Bright Futures provided prevention and education support to young people.

In the most recent Ofsted inspection of Newcastle's children's services, the inspectorate described the hub as a "highly effective response to the risks of child sexual exploitation".

Welcoming yesterday's convictions, Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle Council, said: "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."

Northumbria police and crime commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, added: "There should be praise for the partnership working of Northumbria Police and Newcastle City Council. Both are learning organisations and will expect to benefit from the scrutiny of the serious case review which will follow."

However, Northumbria Police's decision to pay a child rapist almost £10,000 over a 21-month period for information as part of the investigation came under fire from the NSPCC.

"We are appalled to learn that police paid a child rapist and planted him in the midst of vulnerable young girls," said Jon Brown, the charity's lead on child sexual exploitation.

"However good the force's intentions, their misguided actions run entirely counter to all current child protection procedures and what we know about sex offenders, and could have compromised this investigation."

Northumbria Police's chief constable Steve Ashman said the informant was not deployed by police to the parties and that while using the informant may appear "repugnant", the convictions "would not have been possible through conventional methods".

Ashman added that the Independent Police Complaints Commission had investigated the force's handling of the informant had found no misconduct or made any recommendations.

The Children's Society, whose SCARPA project for young people at risk of sexual exploitation provided one-to-one support for some of the victims in the case, said that while the convictions are welcome, the victims still need support.

"Child sexual exploitation is a brutal crime, and for victims and survivors the trauma can live on for years," said Krutika Pau, children and families director at the society.

"It is vital that support for victims does not end with a prosecution, whatever the outcome."

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