Operation Sanctuary update

07 Feb 2014 13:41 PM

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Northumbria Police is continuing to investigate allegations of a series of sexual offences as part of Operation Sanctuary.

Following further investigation, it's believed the allegations involve women and girls being befriended by one or more men over a period of time, and then attending addresses with them where other men are present.

It's believed the women and girls are often under the influence of alcohol or drugs and it's suspected they are then subjected to sexual assault or rape.

To date, 30 people - 28 men and two women - from a range of backgrounds and communities - have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to rape and they are currently on bail pending further enquiries.

While much of the activity has been in Newcastle, other areas of the force are affected. The investigation continues to progress at pace and there is a dedicated team of officers looking at all the information police continue to receive.

Officers also now want to speak to around 80 women, the majority of whom are adults, who may have information vital to the investigation. Officers know who these women are and will be making contact with them. It must be stressed that these women are not necessarily victims but we believe they may have information that can help us.

Police are appealing for those who have information to get in touch with police straight away.

Northumbria Police Deputy Chief Constable Steve Ashman said: "We're keen for people to be vigilant and report any information they have to police.

"The women and girls we've identified so far are all vulnerable in some way, this is the common factor. It could be they have a chaotic lifestyle, a drug or alcohol addiction or are, or have been, in care.

"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."

Information also suggests that 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.

Officers are speaking with business premises and taxi firms to ensure they report anything suspicious and ask for their help throughout the operation.

DCC Ashman added: "We're grateful for the information we've received so far but would ask people to continue to get in touch. The investigation continues at pace and we're committed to doing everything possible to protect the girls involved and our communities.

"I would appeal to anyone who has been the victim of any sort of sexual assault to come forward. Support is available and we're here to help.

"Our absolute priority is to protect any victims or potential victims and we are working closely with those involved and our partners to ensure they receive the appropriate support."

Anyone with any information or concerns is asked to contact police on 101 ext 69191, quoting reference "Operation Sanctuary", or independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Advice and support is also available via Victim Support on 0845 277 0977 or Childline on 0800 1111.