Vulnerable girls and young women were plied with alcohol and drugs and then forced to have sex.Read more
- It can be revealed Northumbria Police paid £10k to a child rapist
- Known only as XY, he got the money to work as informant
- NSPCC 'appalled' at payment to convicted rapist
- You can see more on this story on Inside Out on BBC One in the North East and Cumbria at 19:30 and on the BBC News Channel at 20.30
Our coverage of Operation Sanctuary has ended for the day.
For the first time, we have been able to report how 17 men and one woman have been convicted of grooming and abusing vulnerable girls and women across Newcastle.
Campaigners condemned the practice saying it is a "kick in the teeth" for victims:
We have also told how police brought down the network of sex offenders:
And Inside Out in the North East and Cumbria has a special programme on BBC One at 19:30 and on the BBC News Channel at 20.30.
This photo has been issued by Northumbria Police showing the designer drug M-Kat, which was used to groom girls at parties across Newcastle.
Today Chief Constable Steve Ashman said dangerous men would not be behind bars if he had not decided to pay a convicted child rapist almost £10,000 to spy on these 'sessions' where it was suspected under-age girls were fed drugs and sexually abused.
BBC Inside Out
Sarah (not her real name) was 19, extremely vulnerable and unable to look after herself.
Along with other at-risk teenagers she was regularly abused by older men.
In the new year of 2014, Sarah told the police she'd been raped by Abdul Minoyee.
A police officer took Sarah on a tour of the West End to try identify Minoyee's house and car and other places where these "parties" had taken place.
Sarah's information was a red flag - the abuse was on a much bigger scale.
The detective in charge of Sarah's case told his bosses that what she had said signalled something much bigger.
Days later the officer's hunch was given added weight when two girls in care reported that they'd been repeatedly raped by a group of older Asian men.
The girls were aged 14 and 15.
They described being driven into Newcastle where they were plied with alcohol and cocaine before being raped and beaten by several men.
They were given money before being returned home.
Det Supt Steve Barron, from Northumbria Police, says no one can imagine the abuse the victims have gone through.
The editor of Inside Out in the North East and Cumbria has written a blog about how the BBC fought to report this story:
Here's a snippet:
Spring 2016. Inside Out Producer Dan Farthing rings from Newcastle Crown Court.
“You will not believe what I have just heard…” and what he went on to describe was indeed pretty extraordinary.
Dan was following a series of interlinked trials of more than twenty Asian men, accused of grooming vulnerable young teenagers in the west end of Newcastle. Reporting restrictions banning broadcasts until the conclusion of the final trial meant we’d seen little early evidence of Dan’s regular days on the press bench.
Then, out of the blue, the prosecution revealed Northumbria Police had used a CHIS - a covert human intelligence source - to supply information on so-called “parties” where teenagers were plied with drink and drugs and sexually assaulted.
The BBC successfully argued against an attempt to bar the media from a hearing which revealed the full details of a convicted child rapist who was being paid as an informant by Northumbria Police.
Last year, an abuse of process hearing in Newcastle heard from the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, as lawyers tried to get the trials thrown out.
Defence lawyer David Comb said: "This is a case where a rapist was put into the field, where he was with vulnerable young women when intoxicated... there were 30 occasions where it was disclosed by XY that he had been at parties.
"The police were happy for him to be going to parties, taking drugs, being out of control, because of the high value of information. That is an affront to the public conscience."
XY - who by now had been moved, along with his family, out of the area and was under round-the-clock police protection - was called to court and gave his evidence from behind a screen.
He was questioned on what police had asked him to do, and blamed his many inconsistencies on the pressure of working as an informant.
"You have to remember that I've been through a lot. It's impossible to remember what's true and what's not. You've put me through this," he said.
"If I got shot or died it would have been easier for my wife."
At the hearing, Judge Penny Moreland dismissed all of XY's allegations against the police, saying he was "wholly unworthy of belief" and rejected the defence's attempt to halt the trials.
Dipu Ahad is a councillor in Newcastle's West End, where most victims were targeted.
I can't even breathe, this is how disgusting this has been, full of anxiety and a lot of people are anxious but disgusted with this disgraceful act by men who felt it was OK to groom vulnerable women in our communities.
First and foremost it's important to say that our hearts go out to these women, but also how brave these women were - we need to praise them for that.
It's a sickening crime and it's broken our communities - everyone's worried, everyone's saddened by this and I think we just need to work together and make sure it never happens again in our city."
More details now on the police officer who was sacked for failing to investigate a Newcastle sex offender's phone.
Northumbria Chief Constable Steve Ashman said the officer was dismissed after his actions were found to be "grossly negligent".
The officer had sight of Bahmani Ahmadi's phone but did not "interrogate" it when he dealt with a complaint from a teenage girl in 2012.
If the handset had been checked, it could have revealed the extent of his grooming, police said.
Mr Ashman said at a news conference: "It was evident that an officer who had had an opportunity to investigate an individual offender hadn't done a very good job at all.
"In fact the standard of investigation fell so far short of what I would expect that we deemed it to be grossly negligent and he was dismissed."
Newcastle City Council said 22 women and girls whose evidence helped convict 18 sex offenders on Tyneside had been "brave beyond belief".
The authority worked closely with Northumbria Police following the launch of Operation Sanctuary in early 2014.
More than 700 victims have been identified throughout the Northumbria force area, and a Serious Case Review to establish what lessons can be learned and how to improve safeguarding will report in December.
Council leader Nick 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.”
Newcastle City Council chief executive Pat Ritchie says "my heart goes out" to all the victims of Operation Sanctuary.
A police officer has been sacked over their failings in handling child sex abuse in Newcastle, it can be reported.
Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman said the officer "should have done their job better".
He said: "We’re not perfect. We have encountered one individual officer who should have been far more diligent and should have done their job better, and there was some serious failings in what was evidence in relation to one offender, and that offender is behind bars and has been in prison for a lengthy period of time.
"The officer, we sacked them, and I would hope that would give some reassurance that in the course of this, we have been absolutely resolute, and the culture of Northumbria police now is very, very different to that of years ago."
The convictions of 18 people today are the culmination of Operation Shelter - part of Operation Sanctuary, a long-running Northumbria Police investigation into the abuse of vulnerable girls and young women.
During the course of the inquiry the force paid a convicted rapist - known as XY as he cannot be named for legal reasons - to act as an informant.
Det Supt Steve Barron, from Northumbria Police, says the victims were made aware before today of the involvement of XY in the investigation:
We of course have shared what we could with those people, and explained what we can with them, and I'm content to say that of the girls that have gone through the Shelter trials, not one of them has been critical of the work we've done."
The chief executive of Newcastle City Council, Pat Richie, paid tribute to the victims of Operation Sanctuary:
My heart goes out to all those affected by the heinous crimes which Operation Sanctuary has exposed and I want to pay tribute to the victims for the courage they have shown in giving evidence which has helped put many of these men behind bars.
No-one should underestimate the trauma that these young women and children have gone through but undoubtedly they have helped to make our communities safer places by their actions.
We do not believe that what we have uncovered in Newcastle is unique. Indeed there has been evidence of similar offending in many other towns and cities.
We believe that any area that says that it does not have a problem is simply not looking for it and I would encourage all areas to be be proactive in their attempts to uncover sexual exploitation."
Children's charity the NSPCC has condemned the payment of £10,300 to a convicted rapist to act as an informant during the Northumbria Police investigation into the sexual abuse of vulnerable girls.
Their expert on tackling child sexual abuse, Jon Brown, said: “We are appalled to learn that police paid a child rapist and planted him in the midst of vulnerable young girls. You just couldn’t make it up.
“It beggars belief that it would ever have been considered, let alone approved, and serious questions must be asked about the force’s approach to child sexual exploitation operations.
“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.
“What we mustn’t forget in all this is the victims who were preyed on by a series of despicable men for their own sexual gratification. It is right that these men are now behind bars.”
Newcastle City Council's chief executive Pat Ritchie says the systematic abuse of girls on Tyneside is "sadly not unique".
She 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.”
Northumbria's police and crime commissioner has defended a £10,000 payment to a convicted rapist to act as an informant in the investigation into a grooming gang on Tyneside.
Dame Vera Baird said: "I was made aware, in course of the trials that to facilitate this operation, Northumbria Police had intermittently used a paid, registered informant.
"This man was a criminal, with a conviction for rape as a teenager, and with later convictions for dishonesty and other offences which gave him access into the same circles as these exploiters.
"In 2016 this man turned against police making allegations of misconduct. A full investigation was held by IPCC who found that Northumbria Police had no case to answer.
"An application by the defence to stop the trials on the basis of use of the informant was rejected by a judge and the trials continued.
"The decision to use this informant was an operational one, which could only be taken by police.
"However, I have a duty on behalf of the public of Northumbria to hold the chief constable to account for a matter which concerns a sum of public money and an issue of the highest public interest.
"I would have wished this man not to be used, in particular because of his conviction for rape.
"But, I have questioned the chief constable and in liaison with other senior officers, Mr Ashman has satisfied me that the difficult moral decision to use the informant was taken with care and with particular regard to the welfare of victims.
"I am assured that the information this male supplied has contributed to the investigation and hence to the prosecution of these dangerous men, that it could not have been obtained in any other way, and that it will have ensured the speedier rescue and safeguarding of vulnerable women who would otherwise have continued to suffer abuse."
For that reason, Newcastle City Council has launched a serious case review.
Pat Ritchie, the council's chief executive, said: "I am so sorry that that happened, I can only apologise - it's one too many.
"We did act as soon as we knew what had happened to that young woman, and in a number of instances we've taken young women out of the city and supported them in secure accommodation elsewhere.
"But that's the sort of detail which will come out in the serious case review."
Once of the victims, known as Sarah, spoke about her experiences at the hands of the gang:
They just sit there and have a couple of drinks, have a couple of puffs of cannabis, get up and dance. And they try and get into the bedroom by grabbing us around the belly - and when you say 'no' they still try and drag you though to the bedroom.
Basically they think that, with them having a load of money, and they're married and they've got kids and all of that, that they can go for younger, like our age, and have sex with them for like £40, or a tenner or something that that.
Ever since I've kept to myself. I haven't told my dad, my family members. I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone because I felt ashamed, embarrassed.
And people were going 'Have you ever been raped?' Well I bloody well have. Now I'm telling you it's proper horrible. I need somewhere to go to be safe."
One of the gang convicted of grooming vulnerable girls on Tyneside told his wife he was going night fishing before he picked up a drunk 15-year-old on the street and raped her.
Saiful Islam, 35, of Strathmore Crescent, Newcastle, spotted his victim outside a supermarket in the West End of Newcastle on his way home from work in 2011 and returned after making an excuse to his wife.
He then bought the victim Malibu, took her to premises where he and friends knew they could abuse girls, and coerced her into having sex.
At a hearing in January 2016 which can only be reported now, Judge Penny Moreland sentenced him to 10 years, saying: "She was young, she was scared and she was a girl limited in her ability and understanding.
"You hurt her while you were raping her."
Another defendant was jailed for witness intimidation and assault after telling a young girl he had seen in the street that "everybody wanted her six feet under".
In four separate trials, 17 men and one women were found guilty of, or admitted, offences including conspiracy to incite prostitution, rape and drugs.
Many of the perpetrators were from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Asian backgrounds.
Fiona Trott reports:
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has praised the bravery of victims of a gang who abused vulnerable girls on Tyneside.
Jim Hope, from the CPS, said: "These men systematically groomed and abused vulnerable teenage girls and young women over a number of years for their own sexual gratification.
"Some have already received significant prison sentences for their actions and others still face sentence.
"These prosecutions would not have been possible without the bravery shown by the victims and the courage they showed in giving their evidence of what had happened to them.
"The impact of the abuse these young women suffered has been profound but I hope these convictions can offer them some comfort and help them move forward."
Outstanding sentencing hearings for the remaining defendants are expected to take place next month.
Andrew Norfolk, The Times journalist who is credited by many for breaking what has been described as a conspiracy of silence over the issue of Asian grooming gangs said: "Here was a crime pattern that had existed for at least two decades from the very first day we ran our very first article, in January 2011, saying 'here is this conspiracy of silence, in acknowledging this why are you not acknowledging that this pattern exists?'.
"From that day one when we said is what is absolutely, crucially, needed is research to understand why this pattern has put down such deep roots. That research is still not being carried out."
Chief Constable Steven Ashman said: "Why is it that there appears to be a predominance of this type of offending in a particular community? I think that community has to be asked that question...
"I think we can take part in that debate, but it's not led by the police, it's a job for society itself..."
Operation Shelter, which has resulted in the conviction of a grooming gang from the West End of Newcastle, was one of a number of spin-offs from Operation Sanctuary.
This was launched in late 2013, to investigate claims of sexual abuse against vulnerable women and girls.
Police took to the streets handing out leaflets in a publicity drive, as dozens of potential victims came forward.
Such was the scale of the inquiry, that it split off into more than a dozen operations, with Shelter focussing on reports of girls being abused at parties at addresses in the west end of Newcastle.
The number of defendants led to four separate trials - the first commencing in September 2015 - with reporting restrictions in place until the final one concluded, earlier today.
The use of a convicted child rapist as an informant during an investigation into the sexual abuse of vulnerable girls was "inside accepted policy", a police chief has said.
XY - who also had a string of other convictions - was paid £10,300 by Northumbria Police.
Chief Constable Steven Ashman said he was content that dangerous men had been put behind bars and that he would do "exactly the same thing again".
He said: "In some cases we have actually saved lives on the back of information that we have gained, and am I going to take that risk again? You're damn right I'm going to.
"It's inside the law, inside accepted policy and practice. I get that people might be quite shocked by it, but actually this is the right thing to do."
More than 20 girls became the "vulnerable victims of an organised, cynical, systematic organisation in which they were passed between their abusers", Newcastle Crown Court has heard.
The 22 victims - aged between 14 and 24 - were befriended and taken to parties, or "sessions", where alcohol and drugs were freely available.
They were then forced to have sex with the men.
Some spoke of being "too intoxicated" to defend themselves, others became addicted and had to commit sexual acts in return for drugs.
One victim said she had been to 60 such parties, and spoke of seeing two older men at one of them with a woman, who seemed "frightened and scared, like a slave".
It has now emerged that during the course of Operation Shelter the force paid the convicted rapist to act as an informant.
XY as he was known - he cannot be named for legal reasons - was tasked with finding out when the parties were happening, and letting police know.
He had a string of criminal convictions, and had previously been jailed for seven years for attacking a 15-year-old girl, whom he plied with drink and drugs and gang raped with two of his friends.
Sammy Woodhouse, who was 14 when she was abused by a grooming gang in Rotherham and now advises police forces on how to tackle grooming, described his payment of £10,300 as "absolutely outrageous".
She said: "If I were in [his rape victim's] situation I'd be absolutely disgusted by it.
"For me that would be a real kick in the teeth and I'd think 'this is a man that could have destroyed my life, that fetched me so much hurt and pain and he's been rewarded for that'."
A gang has been convicted of abusing vulnerable girls who were plied with alcohol and drugs and taken to parties where they were forced to have sex.
The victims from Newcastle, some as young as 14, were often from a troubled background and at least one was in care.
In four separate trials, the 17 men and one women were found guilty of, or admitted, offences including conspiracy to incite prostitution, rape and drugs.
Three have been jailed. The rest will be sentenced next month.
BBC News Online
Two former police officers whose phones were illegally monitored by their own force have been awarded £3,000 compensation.
Cleveland Police has already apologised to the officers - Mark Dias and Steve Matthews (pictured) - two journalists and a solicitor whose phones were accessed while investigating leaks to the media.
An Investigatory Powers tribunal ruled the force's actions were not proportionate.
The tribunal said the invasion of privacy was "serious and distressing".
Cleveland Police accessed phone records of the officers and Northern Echo journalists for four months in 2012 under Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) legislation.
The force claimed it was concerned information was being illegally leaked to the media.
Ten years on Alistair Darling remembers the moment the financial crash began which included a run on Northern Rock
Political reporter, BBC Cumbria
Police have said the death of a man who was found unconscious behind a Newcastle nightclub is not linked to hate crime.
Mr Thurston, of Chirton West View in North Shields, died later in hospital.
A short statement from Northumbria Police said: "Despite concerns that the death of Mr Thurston could be linked to hate crime, officers can confirm this is not the case."
A 33-year-old man from Gateshead has been charged with manslaughter and is due to appear at North Tyneside Magistrates' Court later.
Disappointing news from Grace Road, where the umpires called off the match with the rain coming down heavily in Leicester.
A draw does neither of the Division Two sides any good to be honest, as they remain in the bottom two places in the table.
Despite the result, the match will be a memorable one for 21-year-old Cameron Steel who scored an impressive 224 in just his 15th first-class game.
A five-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl from County Durham are among the children who have been excluded from school for sexual misconduct, new figures show.
Government figures show more than 2,000 children in England were suspended or expelled last year for the same reason - with incidents including sexting, sexual assault, watching pornography and explicit graffiti.
It follows an investigation by BBC Newcastle last month which revealed thousands of children across England and Wales have been investigated by police for sexting since 2013.
Two people were seriously hurt in an accident on the A19 in County Durham involving four vehicles.
The incident happened on the northbound carriageway near Seaham just after 19:00 on Tuesday.
A pedestrian from one of the vehicles was also struck by a vehicle.
The two seriously injured people were taken to Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary.
The road was closed for six hours.
Police have appealed for witnesses.