Tyne & Wear

Operation Sanctuary: Rape plot police seek 80 women

Northumbria Deputy Chief Constable Steve Ashman
Image caption Steve Ashman said many of the victims could be teenagers

Police say they want to talk to 80 young women in connection with a major investigation into sexual abuse and grooming on Tyneside.

Thirty people from Newcastle, Gateshead and South Tyneside have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to rape and bailed, as part of Operation Sanctuary.

Northumbria Police said at least 15 of the women they want to speak to as part of operation Sanctuary are victims.

Officers are visiting hotels, B&Bs and taxi firms to hand out appeal leaflets.

Of those arrested in the two week old operation, 28 are men and two are women.

Northumbria's deputy Chief Constable Steve Ashman appealed to the wider community for help in tracing potential victims and witnesses, particularly evidence of young girls going into properties with older men where parties were taking place.

'Susceptibility to grooming'

He said: "What is consistent so far in this investigation is that there is a common factor that binds these victims together. That is their vulnerability.

"Vulnerability by virtue of their age in some cases. But in many cases vulnerability because of their susceptibility to grooming, addiction to alcohol or other substances.

"So in many cases these are teenagers and women who live in and are part of every community across Newcastle, Gateshead and South Tyneside.

"They are bound together by that one factor of vulnerability.

"Members of the public may recognise this description as a person they know. Someone vulnerable who is potentially involved or at risk of being taken advantage of.

"These are crimes that are happening behind closed doors, in local areas, and it is likely that people living nearby recognise the behaviour we're describing.

"It could be groups of men going into properties with teenage girls or young women. They may see women under the influence of drink or drugs who may appear distressed.

"We need people to report this to us. We can't do this alone. We all have a collective responsibility to make our communities a no go area for this type of behaviour. If it doesn't look right, if it just feels wrong, then ring us."

He said there would be a "heightened police presence" in the target areas over the weekend, where appeal leaflets would be distributed.

Mr Ashman added: "Information suggests the girls and women may frequent business premises which brings them into contact with men, and that some of the victims are transported in taxis to the different addresses."

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