On Air Now
9 August 2017, 15:54
Under-age girls and vulnerable young women were taken to parties in Newcastle and groomed with drugs before being raped and sexually abused, it can now be reported.
A total of 17 men and one woman have been convicted of, or have admitted, charges including rape, supplying drugs and inciting prostitution, in a series of trials at Newcastle Crown Court.
Older men preyed on immature teenagers who were plied with cocaine, cannabis, alcohol or mephedrone, then raped or persuaded into having sexual activity with the lure of the illegal drugs at parties known as "sessions".
Northumbria Police launched a major investigation after receiving information from social workers and initially spoke to 108 potential victims.
Over the course of four trials, 20 young women gave evidence covering a period from 2011 to 2014.
Those prosecuted were from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish communities and mainly British-born, with most living in the West End of Newcastle.
The investigation into child sexual exploitation in Newcastle, Operation Shelter, was part of a wider inquiry called Operation Sanctuary.
The wider operation has seen around 100 people convicted of a range of serious offences, including drugs, modern-day slavery and firearms charges, with jail terms totalling more than 300 years.
Northumbria Police made frequent announcements after launching Operation Sanctuary in 2014, but then stopped releasing details once reporting restrictions were imposed by the courts to avoid prejudicing later prosecutions.
That left a vacuum of information which some on the far right looked to exploit, claiming details were suppressed.
The English Defence League claimed "the long silence about these cases reeks of manipulation and procrastination for political purposes".
Over the course of the consecutive trials, a picture emerged of how victims were befriended by abusers and lured to parties where they would be given mephedrone, or M-Kat, for free.
Police pieced together links between the offenders, using telephone data to show how they knew each other, gathered at the same places or had mutual acquaintances.
As with the Rochdale, Rotherham and Oxford grooming cases, victims were conned into thinking they were in a relationship with their abuser, who would then pass them round their network to be used for sex, sometimes with the encouragement of the class B drug M-Kat, or cannabis.
Known as "Bubble" on Tyneside, M-Kat has similar effects to Ecstasy and can be quickly addictive.
Defendants were charged with conspiracy to incite prostitution for gain - reflecting how women were exploited with drink or drugs.
Roles within the conspiracy included providing the premises, supplying drugs, transporting victims, having sex with them or encouraging it to happen.
There was no suggestion the victims were working as prostitutes or were paid.
Not all the defendants were part of the conspiracy.
The progress of the four trials was halted in October last year when defence barristers tried to have the cases thrown out over the existence of a police informant - named in court as XY - who it emerged was himself a child rapist. That application failed.
John Elvidge QC, who prosecuted the cases, said girls were exploited ruthlessly.
Summing up the final trial, he said: "This was a section of young women who were tricked into believing they were in the company of friends.
"They were groomed and lulled into trusting those who would ultimately abuse them."
Under cross-examination, one victim said she did not go to the police because she was addicted to the drugs the abusers were handing out.
One girl described how a victim was demeaned in a flat in Newcastle's West End.
She told the jury: "She seemed scared. She came into the room where I was and the men were treating her like a slave.
"They were dropping things on the floor on purpose to make her pick them up."
While investigating the abuse of girls, police used disruption tactics such as pulling over taxis to check occupants were safe and alerting hotels to what might be happening.