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  1. Ministers told to urgently review laws on sexual exploitation
  2. Victim tells of 'schoolgirls in uniform' being raped
  3. NHS Trust review found sexual exploitation 'not considered'
  4. Author calls for government review of sexual health clinics
  5. Eighteen people were convicted of abusing girls in Newcastle
  6. Victims plied with alcohol and drugs before being forced into sex
  7. Up to 700 victims in total have now been identified

Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

Our live coverage of the Operation Sanctuary report

Our live coverage of today's Serious Case Review into Operation Sanctuary has come to an end.

The report made a number of findings, including:

The perpetrators

You can read more about today's review here.

Thank you for joining us.

Girls 'were plied with booze and M-Cat before being assaulted'

This photo was issued last year by police showing the designer drug M-Cat, which was used to groom girls at "parties" across Newcastle.

Last August 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.

Northumbria Police

Watch: Trauma specialist urges victims to 'talk to someone'

A sexual trauma specialist has addressed victims of sexual abuse following today's Serious Case Review.

Zoe Lodrick wants women to "talk to someone" and come forward, understanding the conflict victims can feel.

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Perpetrators were 'undeterred' by police

Today's report into Operation Sanctuary determined that professionals should only rely on victims' statements to prosecute perpetrators when it is "unavoidable due to lack of other evidence".

This is said to be to protect victims and stop offenders before damage has been caused.

The review was also "unable" to gain a true understanding of the offences through communicating with the perpetrators, as they were "undeterred by involvement of the police and other agencies".

The report adds: "There is an urgent need for guidance to robustly address these issues."

The report

The man behind the report into abuse in Newcastle

David Spicer, the man who wrote today's report, is a barrister and former chair of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

He has worked on more than 30 Serious Case Reviews (SCRs), Child Practice Review Reports and Multi-Agency Vulnerable Adult Review Reports.

Recently, he has undertaken more than 16 SCRs, most notably into the death of London girl Victoria Climbie in 2001.

Victoria Climbie

David Spicer warns everyone to be 'vigilant'

The government is being warned it's likely vulnerable women are being abused extensively across the UK, and much of it is unrecognised.

The review into Operation Sanctuary found that while there were similarities to grooming networks in other cities, the exploitation of adults was "unique" and had to be addressed urgently.

Speaking at a news conference, the author of the report, David Spicer, said all agencies, people and officials have to be alert.

Today's press conference

Dr Spicer said that it may be "easy to identify if a child is not attending school regularly" or "continually going missing", however that may not always be the case.

Some of the victims that were looked at in this Serious Case Review attended school regularly, and teachers were "certainly" not aware of what was happening.

He added: "Everybody has to be vigilant about the likelihood of this happening... everywhere."

Watch: Safeguarding manager's message to victims

A safeguarding manager for Newcastle City Council is urging victims of sexual abuse and exploitation to come forward.

Sam Keith says she is aware of how hard it can be for victims to share their stories, but insists professionals are "here to listen".

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The story of one of the Operation Shelter victims

Chris Jackson

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.

Sexual abuse inquiry spawned multiple investigations

Operation Shelter 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 focusing 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 in August last year.

Police hand out leaflets

Key points in grooming report

The Serious Case Review published today was undertaken by the Newcastle Safeguarding Adults Board and Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board.

The main aim of the report was to "consider and learn" from sexual exploitation involving children and young adults in Newcastle.

Some of the key points it examined were:

  • The complex nature of the exploitation
  • The extreme impact it had on victims
  • That exploitation happens to adults as well as children
  • Difficulties identifying and preventing exploitation

How the BBC fought to report the full story

The editor of Inside Out in the North East and Cumbria wrote a blog last year 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.

Stock image of girls

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.

Read more here.

Sexual exploitation report praised by NSPCC

The NSPCC has praised the Serious Case Review into Operation Sanctuary.

The charity states that "significant strides have been made" in dealing with child exploitation in Newcastle.

It added the crimes committed were "abhorrent" and highlighted that "knowledge must continue to be shared across the UK".

Police officer sacked for being 'grossly negligent'

Last year it emerged a police officer was sacked for failing to investigate a sex offender's phone linked to Operation Sanctuary.

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.

Northumbria Chief Constable Steve Ashman

Two years later Ahmadi was re-arrested and subsequently charged and jailed.

Mr Ashman said: "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."

'I couldn’t face reliving it'

One victim of sexual abuse spoke at length about how the court case badly affected her:

I waited a long time for a trial date. There were video interviews, statements, identity parades. I gave full evidence at the trial and was cross examined.

Court was awful, the worst experience ever – spoken down to – felt I was on trial – the defence. The judge intervened a lot to stop it but it still went on.

I was commended for my strength by the police and prosecution. Shortly afterwards, thinking it was over, I was told there was a legal problem with a part of the case, not to do with me or my and evidence. The trial was stopped.

A year later I was asked to give evidence again. I couldn’t face reliving it. To stand up in front of all those people - and then told I had to do it again – I had already made statements. If I only had to tell it once that would be brilliant.

The police understood and asked the CPS to consider using evidence from the original trial because of the impact on my mental health. The CPS requested a mental health assessment, which resulted in a brief meeting. I was asked first off to take Diazepam to go through with the trial.

The allegations referred to drugs being used for the purposes of rape and I was now being asked to take a drug to help relive it and put up with another full trial. I couldn’t do it and refused.

Two days later I was sectioned under the mental health act for risks to my own life, whilst the men despite all the evidence were set free.

Why couldn’t that jury have seen my evidence like they saw my original video evidence? They record everything anyway. If this had been allowed I might’ve got justice for what happened to me. They walked free.

The impact of the crimes and failed court process to the victim and close family is intolerable.”

Newcastle council chief executive reacts to report

The chief executive of Newcastle City Council believes that adults are "being abused as well as young women".

Pat Ritchie has spoken out about today's report, which she says is the first to identify that particular issue.

She added that it's important to acknowledged that abuse does not "automatically stop at 18".

Pat Ritchie

Charity believes more can be done across the UK

Operation Sanctuary's Serious Case Review demonstrates "the enormous progress that has been made in Newcastle" in tackling grooming and exploitation, the Children's Society says.

The organisation, which supports, young people in Newcastle affected by child sexual exploitation, is concerned that victims across the UK continue to be let down by professionals.

It believes this comes as a result of a failure to recognise "vulnerable" people who are at risk.

The charity highlights that other areas can "learn lessons" from the work done in Newcastle, but insists that there is "more to do" in the city.

Operation Sanctuary arrests still continuing

Operation Sanctuary continues to this day, with seven people arrested over human trafficking offences only a few weeks ago.

Police carried out six warrants at homes in the West End of Newcastle on 30 January as part of an investigation into modern day slavery and said 11 potential victims had been rescued.

A man being arrested
Northumbria Police

Government urged to look at taxi licensing

The Government must look at "weaknesses" in taxi licensing which may allow people to keep driving after their licence is removed, the report says.

If someone has licence to operate a taxi revoked they can still continue as a private operator of larger vehicles.

A suggestion was also made about creating a national database of licence removals.

Victim was 'accused' of lying over compensation

One of the Operation Sanctuary victims was "startled" after being cross examined about the compensation she received.

The victim says she was "accused" of coming forward only to receive money.

She added:

When cross-examined I was called a liar – that it was all untrue. It was hard to put up a fight. I knew the police believed me.”

You should not be questioned about stuff outside the time zone for the case. For me, some of it was years ago. For some it’s new and fresh. You can put it at the back of your mind.

I was questioned about a note for school asking for absence when I forged my mother’s signature years before."

Government calls sexual exploitation 'abhorrent'

The government has called the crimes committed in Operation Sanctuary "abhorrent".

In a statement, a spokesperson acknowledged the "devastating impact" the abuse has had on victims.

They added that they have "done more than any other government to tackle child abuse".

"We will now look carefully at the recommendations in the joint serious case review,” it said.

Newcastle: Victim says sexual exploitation still going on
Six months after 18 people were convicted of sexual exploitation in Newcastle, one young woman who was exploited for years, claims it is still going on.

The investigation in numbers

  • About 700 victims have been identified across Northumberland, Tyneside and Wearside
  • Some 110 victims were linked to Newcastle and some gave evidence in the criminal cases
  • Trials that concluded in September involved 25 defendants and 22 victims
  • The defendants included men aged between 34 and 47

They were convicted for sexual assaults, rapes, conspiracy and drug offences.

The victims were aged between 14 and 24, and one was in local authority care at the time.

Charity helping victims 'pleased' with report

A charity that supports a number of women who were exploited as part of Operation Sanctuary says it is "very pleased" with today's Serious Case Review.

Changing Lives is helping 33 women affected by the abuse and said their trauma "cannot be underestimated".

The charity is particularly happy with the focus given to abuse being carried out into adulthood and welcomes "the recommendation for a national debate, review and guidance to highlight the need for long-term support for victims of any age"

Director Laura Seebohm said: “Indeed it is the bravery of the women who came forward and put themselves through the ordeal of giving evidence that led to so many perpetrators being brought to justice."

British girls 'had a lack of morals'

One of the men who abused vulnerable girls and women in Newcastle was interviewed for the report and showed "no remorse", David Spicer said.

In prison, he explained he spent 10 years in Turkey, five years or so in Greece and some time in Italy and France, before travelling to England on the way to Canada.

During sentencing the judge said his intention was to "incite" 15-year-old girls into prostitution.

The report said:

He displayed no regret, claimed he only had sex with girls over 16 years old and that they knew what they were doing. They were responsible and brought drugs on to his premises. One was homeless so what could he do?

He was convicted because of a conspiracy by the government, police and the judge who paid the victims. 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."

Government 'must look at backgrounds of sex abusers'

The government needs to research the "profiles, motivations and cultural and background influences of perpetrators of sexual exploitation", the Operation Sanctuary report claims.

Author David Spicer said the "model of abuse" seen in Sanctuary was used by men from a "predominantly Asian or British Minority Ethnic culture or background".

In the Newcastle case, most of the men were British-born but all came from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian or Turkish communities.

The Quillam Foundation said 84% of the 264 offenders convicted of grooming between 2005 and 2017 were of south Asian heritage.

Mr Spicer said the perpetrator he spoke to "displayed no regret" and "spoke in a derogatory manner about a lack of morals in British girls".

Sexual exploitation 'still going on in Newcastle'

Sexual exploitation is still going on in Newcastle, the council's chief executive has admitted.

Pat Ritchie said:

I would like to reassure everyone that the council is working very closely with both the adult and children’s safeguarding boards to ensure all of the recommendations are progressed and implemented in a timely manner.

Sexual exploitation is happening in towns and cities across the country but what we have learned can be used to help others.

We know it is still going on in our city, but we are doing everything in our power to prevent it, disrupt it and deal with it, and support the victims for years to come.”

Pat Ritchie

Victims 'felt as if they were labelled as prostitutes'

The report says victims were also unhappy at defendants being charged with incitement to prostitution, feeling this labelled them as prostitutes.

It adds: "Those convicted know who else is involved. A separate offence of having been convicted when it is clear others were involved and failing to identify them might encourage co-operation."

Report recommends: *The government should review the law to make sure terminology does not cause distress to victims."

Police 'still have work to do' to find sex abuse victims

Officers "still have work to do" to identify victims of sexual exploitation, the temporary Deputy Chief Constable of Northumbria Police has said.

Darren Best said: “It is fair to say that in recent years we, as a society, have undergone a sea-change in terms of our knowledge and understanding of sexual exploitation; from the behaviour of perpetrators to the long-term impact on victims.

Temporary Deputy Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, Darren Best,
Northumbria Police

“This review praises the approach taken by Northumbria Police as part of Operation Sanctuary to proactively disrupt perpetrators.

“But we are far from complacent and recognise we still have work to do to ensure we consistently identify victims and carry out comprehensive investigations on their behalf.

“Preventative work is key and a wide-range of safeguarding work is being carried out across the city involving the likes of police, local authority, health, education, businesses and local communities. What cannot be clearer is that safeguarding the vulnerable is everybody’s business.”

The voices of the victims

One victim gave what the report called a "chilling account" of why she came forward and reported the attacks to the police:

I started seeing younger girls there being raped and not realising it. Schoolgirls in uniform with their school bags coming from school.”

Others painted a picture of dysfunctional lives seemingly devoid of hope:

I should have been taken away from my family before I was born. For neglect. It took until I was 14 years old.”

And another victim described how the scene was set for her abuse:

A man in his 20s waited outside the primary school. We said he was our friend. I was 10-11 years old.

In the park, I met R. I was in Year 8. He was asking my age and about school and why I was out so late.

He took us to his house. There were a huge number of people there… R. asked me for my number to keep in touch and that was the start of the problem.”

Other places 'can learn from Newcastle's problems'

Towns and cities across the country can learn "a great deal" from Newcastle's experience of tackling the issue of women and girls being sexually exploited, the report's author says.

David Spicer said: “Unlike some other areas, Newcastle agencies did not try and sweep this under the carpet but actively went looking for it and as a result a large number of perpetrators were arrested and prosecuted, and victims saved from further trauma.

"That is not say that lessons have not been learned. Before 2014 perpetrators were not consistently investigated, disrupted and prosecuted.

David Spicer

"Professionals felt there was little chance of securing convictions for various reasons - a lack of co-operation by victims because of control by perpetrators, victims being undermined in court and a history of a cautious approach by the Crown Prosecution Service in bringing charges.

“However, once the true extent of the problem became apparent, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the City Council and partners across the city put in place a range of measures to disrupt, arrest and imprison offenders while supporting victims regardless of whether they were able to give evidence in court or not."

'They made me feel unclean'

A victim says her ordeal was made worse by giving evidence at the criminal cases with the defendants in the room.

I should not have gone – I was so distressed in my head. They questioned me one after the other for 2-3 days.

I was talking about horrible stuff. It was intimidating. I was asked about a very intimate thing which was extremely distressing. It has caused me a lot of stress. I don’t know why they had to ask such a personal question.

They brought up personal issues – made me feel unclean. There were screens. I could see the jury. The perpetrators and their family members were there.

I had to see the doctor – who said I was not well enough. Then the trial was stopped - I don’t know why. I was told it was politics and to do with the jury.

I went back to heavy drinking. Lost control. The perpetrators were continually in my head. I was sectioned and detained.”

I had good support for the criminal court. Good preparation. But it made me angry. I was made out to be a liar and it made me feel low.

That came as a surprise – it was dreadful. I wasn’t expecting it. Afterwards I was very upset and couldn’t control myself. I started having dreams and flash backs.

I was asked about things in my records that I knew nothing about – my past and I didn’t know why.”

Watch: Operation Sanctuary press conference

A press conference discussing the findings of a new report into Operation Sanctuary is taking place now.

You can watch it live here.

Fiona Trott

Lack of initial action 'not related to racism fears'

Abuse cases in Newcastle were investigated without fear of "allegations of racism" or "misplaced concerns about political correctness", the report states.

Author David Spicer insisted that any reasons identified for a lack of action were not related to these issues.

The report acknowledges that practitioners felt that early responses appeared to blame the victims "for their behaviour... and responsibility for making bad choices".

However, it is made clear that "there is no evidence that this influenced decisions about whether action should be taken or undermined the determination to safeguard victims".

Newcastle abuse cases 'not down to fears of racism'

The 150-page report into widespread sexual abuse of girls and vulnerable women across Newcastle also found:

  • Newcastle is not the same as Rochdale as decisions "were not influenced by lack of concern or interest, misplaced fears about political correctness or fear of being seen as racist”.
  • Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had not "clearly" considered if cases were victims of sexual exploitation.
  • The Government must review sexual health clinics to stop victims of abuse using them multiple times without detection
  • Children as young as 12 in Newcastle have received contraception without a referral to safeguarding agencies
  • Authorities across Newcastle did not try to sweep the problem "under the carpet".
  • Most victims were white but others were from "African states" or "Asian".
Places where girls were abused

BreakingVulnerable adults 'extensively' abused across the country

Vulnerable women are being "extensively" abused across the country and the government needs to urgently review the laws surrounding sexual exploitation, a new report says.

The Serious Case Review was commissioned after 17 men and one women were jailed for offences including conspiracy to incite prostitution, rape and drugs offences last year.

Girls and women were plied with alcohol and drugs and taken to "parties" in the West End of Newcastle where they were forced to have sex.

Author David Spicer said the Government should "urgently issue guidance or advice on addressing sexual exploitation of vulnerable adults".

Left to right, row by row, starting top left: Eisa Mousavi, Mohammed Ali, Nashir Uddin, Monjur Choudhury, Taherul Alam, Habibur Rahim, Badrul Hussain, Carolann Gallon, Saiful Islam, AbdulHamid Minoyee, Prabhat Nelli, Abdul Sabe, Jahangir Zaman, Nadeem Aslam, Mohammed Azram, Yassar Hussain, Redwan Siddquee, Mohibur Rahman
Northumbria Police

The Home Office said it would "look carefully" at Mr Spicer's 33 recommendations, which also included a need for research into the cultural background of abusers.