Operation Sanctuary Inside Out North East and Cumbria


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Operation Sanctuary

Chris Jackson reports on Operation Sanctuary, the Northumbria Police enquiry into an Asian grooming gang operating in the West End of Newcastle.


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operation to catch a grooming gang, here s Chris Jackson with a special

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edition of Inside Out.

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Vulnerable teenagers, groomed and abused

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by a gang of Asian men in Newcastle have finally got justice.

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A multi-million pound police operation has

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uncovered years of sexual

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exploitation of children and young women.

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It s a problem that authorities and young women.

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struggled to tackle.

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But Inside Out can reveal how the investigation here came close

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to collapse after Northumbria Police secretly paid a man who raped

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a child thousands of pounds to infiltrate the grooming gang.

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For the first time, we tell the whole story.

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Police - emergency?

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If you try anything - you tried it on with us.

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He tried to sleep with us.

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A police operator takes a 999 call.

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There s an argument going on.

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It s (BLEEP) rape.

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She s my girlfriend, it doesn t matter, it doesn t matter.

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Go home, take a taxi, yeh.

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Well, go on then.

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What s happening?

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She just wants to go.

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I ll go then.

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No.

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No, I need to know what is going on.

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There s clearly a disturbance there.

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What s going on?

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OK, OK, it doesn t matter, thank you.

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After the call, which lasted several minutes, the handler established

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she was speaking to this man.

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The police did investigate, but took no further action against Minoyee,

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describing his victim as drunk and abusive.

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But six years later, this assault was played out in court

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as part of Operation Sanctuary, a police investigation

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finally lifting the lid on the actions of a grooming gang.

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It exposed how, over many years, a group of Asian men

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from the West End of Newcastle had been abusing vulnerable

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young women and girls.

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Throughout much of this programme we re reconstructing

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real-life events.

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Sarah was 19, extremely vulnerable and unable to look after herself.

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Along with other at risk teenagers, she was regularly

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abused by older men.

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These are Sarah's words, spoken by an actor.

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They just sit there and have a couple of drinks,

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have a couple of puffs of cannabis, get up and dance and they try

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and get into the bedroom by grabbing us like around the belly,

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and when you do that against the door, (Gestures), "NO",

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they still try and drag you though to the bedroom.

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Basically, they think that, like with them having a load

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of money and they re married and they ve got kids

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and all of that, that they can go for younger...

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like our age, and have sex with them for like forty quid or a tenner

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or something like that.

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In the new year of 2014, Sarah told the police she d been

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raped by Abdul Minoyee, the same man heard arguing

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on the 999 call three years earlier.

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Ever since I ve kept to myself.

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I haven t told my dad, my family members.

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I couldn t bring myself to tell anyone because I felt

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ashamed, embarrassed.

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And people were going, "have you ever been raped?"

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Well, I bloody well have!

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Now I m telling you, it s proper horrible.

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I need somewhere to go, to be safe.

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A police officer took Sarah on a tour of the West End

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to try to identify Minoyee s house and car and other places

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where what described as "parties" had taken place.

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Sarah s information was a red flag, the abuse

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was on a much bigger scale.

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I think it would have set just about every alarm bell ringing

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that it was possible to sound.

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Andrew Norfolk is credited by many for breaking what s described

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as a conspiracy of silence over the issue of Asian grooming gangs.

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At the time detectives in Newcastle were hearing Sarah s story,

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the authorities in South Yorkshire were under fire for failing

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to protect hundreds of victims of a grooming gang in Rotherham.

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I find it almost inconceivable that when the Rotherham scandal finally

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erupted there were not a great many police forces and local

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authorities across England sitting there and thinking,

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there but for the grace of God.

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How does anybody know that what was going on in Rotherham

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for all those years wasn t happening in another part of the country?

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And it wasn t just Rotherham, patterns were emerging of similar

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grooming gangs across England.

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Here, the detective in charge of Sarah s case told his bosses that

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what she had said signalled something much bigger.

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Days later, the officer s hunch was given added weight when two

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girls in care reported that they d been repeatedly raped

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by a group of older Asian men.

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The girls were aged 14 and 15.

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The girls described being driven into Newcastle where they were plied

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with alcohol and cocaine before being raped and beaten

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by several men.

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They were then given money and taken back

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to where they were in care.

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So a team from Northumbria Police began a massive intelligence

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gathering exercise.

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This is the moment when Operation Sanctuary began.

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We re dealing with offences of grooming, rape, drugs

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and human trafficking.

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There are cultural considerations there which we must be mindful of.

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And over the following weeks across the West End of Newcastle...

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Police, police.

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..they carried out a series of raids.

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You re arrested for conspiracy to commit rape.

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What!

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Put your hands in front of you, please.

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It ll all be explained to you when you get

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to the police station.

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Conspiracy to commit rape, Nicky.

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Keep it to yourself yet but...

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Inside the flats, the police discovered evidence of partying.

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And any maybes lasses names.

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Oh aye.

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Phones, lap tops, sims cards...

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They seized mobiles, computers and drugs,

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anything which would help piece together their investigation.

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At the beginning of 2014, they went public with

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At the beginning of 2014, they went public with the inquiry.

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15 arrests

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as police investigate claims of sexual abuse

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of young women in Newcastle.

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Some of them were in local authority care.

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This could be somebody who you see in circumstances that

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just doesn t feel right.

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You see them associating with older boys or indeed older men.

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There can t be any political correctness or any sensitivities.

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They are criminals who have committed some of the worst crimes

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in our society and we should deal with them with the full

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letter of the law.

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If it looks wrong and it feels wrong, then please

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get in touch with us.

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Police officers took to the streets on a publicity drive,

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taxi drivers and late night takeaways were targetted.

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The publicity brought results, two teenagers walked

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into Byker police station.

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They told a familiar story, of how they d also been

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abused over several years.

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The girls explained how they'd been sitting on a bench in the early

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hours of the morning in Benwell.

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They were wearing only pyjamas and were picked

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up by Mohammed Azram, known as Azzi G.

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He offered to let them warm up in his car.

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The girls, then aged just 16, were taken away, fed drugs

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and alcohol and then one of them had sex with Azram.

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The story is familiar.

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At first the girls believe they're in a relationship,

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but then, as time goes on, the controlling becomes

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much more explicit.

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They re plied with drink and drugs, upon which they become

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increasingly dependent.

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They re sexually assaulted and shared around amongst the other men.

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So with the abusers in a tightly knit group and their victims often

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traumatized, the police investigation was fraught

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with difficulty.

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Perhaps that s why they took a highly controversial decision

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to recruit a man with a shocking past, and it could have

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derailed the entire inquiry.

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A CHIS is what most people would know is called an informant

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or a snout, a grass.

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Informants operate in a shadowy world that seldom comes

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to public attention.

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Neil Woods has a unique insight, it was his job to handle

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informants in the Midlands.

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CHIS stands for 'covert human intelligence source' It s the person

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who a lot of the time has a criminal background and provides information

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to police officers about other criminal activities.

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The man chosen by Northumbria Police was a convicted child rapist.

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XY, as he became known, was jailed for seven years

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for attacking a 15-year-old girl.

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He d picked her up off the street in 2001,

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plied her with drink and drugs and gang raped her with

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two of his friends.

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Despite being a high risk sex offender, the police decided

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to bring XY on board.

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He was already on their books having worked for them for several

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years as an informant.

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His task?

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To act as their man on the inside.

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We can t name XY for legal reasons, but he knew many

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in the grooming gang.

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This, in his own words, spoken by an actor, is why

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the police brought him into the inquiry.

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I was told this is an operation about Asian grooming gangs.

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This is what we are after.

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These are the people we are interested in.

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I had to find out what's going on, where the parties were taking place.

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Last party I went to, one or two, I got to find out about parties,

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so when they were happening, I would ring it in.

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Between March 2014 and December 2015, XY was paid ?10,300

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for the information he supplied to his police handler.

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But that wasn t his only reward.

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There are a variety of motivations for CHIS s.

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Most of the time it's for financial benefit.

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Sometimes they are providing information because they hope that

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information will mean that they get a discount on a prison sentence,

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if they are on bail for something.

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During his time as an informant, XY benefitted from lighter sentences

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and he was certainly a prolific offender.

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In all, XY had 53 convictions.

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He had a history of fraud and assaults.

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While working for Operation Sanctuary, he was arrested

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for dishonesty, an assault in a mosque and he was even

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questioned about making sexual advances to a 13-year-old girl.

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I think it s absolutely disgusting.

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I don t think any police force should be working with pedophiles.

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Sammy Woodhouse was just 14 when she was abused

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by a grooming gang in Rotherham.

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He came to me as me Prince Charming and then later

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on turned into a monster.

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She now advises police forces on how to tackle grooming.

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We showed her our information on XY.

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I think it's an absolute kick in the teeth.

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It s just so insulting.

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They clearly thought that no one was going to know

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about it and they thought they would get away with it.

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How would you describe the behaviour of Northumbria Police

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in using a convicted sex offender like this?

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It s absolutely shameful and they should be ashamed

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of themselves and they need to ask themselves, how would I feel

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if it was my daughter?

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As a victim, I don t think I d go to that police force after hearing

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information like this.

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And if this kind of stuff can shock me, I know it s

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going to shock anybody, and I don t think the public

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is going to be happy whatsoever when this gets out.

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I can completely understand the public s outrage,

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the outrage that a convicted child rapist is going to be paid money,

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but there's no room to be squeamish in this world.

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If you want to investigate child sex offences, you've got to use every

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tool at your disposal.

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We ll probably never know the exact reason why the police used XY,

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what we do know is that their secret strategy could have wrecked

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the whole operation, as we'll see later.

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By the summer of 2015, the police were ready

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to bring their case to court.

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But with more than 20 defendants, the trials

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were divided up into four.

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In the first, eight men were in the dock.

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The verdicts?

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Sailful Islam - ten years for rape.

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Mohammed Hassan Ali - seven years for sexual activity

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with and supplying drugs to a child.

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Mohammed Azram, Nashir Uddin, Jahanghir Zaman -

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all convicted of sexual assault, drugs offences and inciting

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women into prostitution.

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Yasser Hussein got two years for assault and witness intimidation.

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Two others were acquitted.

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But the next cases didn't run so smoothly.

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In March 2016 it emerged that XY - the child rapist informant -

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had fallen out with his police handler and was now threatening

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to go to the press.

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XY had, in effect, gone rogue and was making highly damaging

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claims about the investigation.

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We've obtained a secret transcript of XY s interview

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with the National Crime Agency, which was called in to

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investigate his allegations.

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Much of it is so sensitive that it's been blacked out.

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But in the extracts we can read XY claims the police

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operation was racist, that he was tasked by his handler

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to plant drugs at the homes of the grooming gang and even told

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to take vulnerable girls to parties.

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He asked me at one point go pick one up and bring her to the house

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and bring some drugs with ya...

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So I'd go and pick up these lasses take them to the party,

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leave some drugs on the table.

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The claims caused an outcry in the court room.

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The prosecution wanted the whole issue debated in secret

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but the BBC challenged that, which is why we can now

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tell you the full story.

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Defence lawyers argued that XY's claims so discredited the police

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case, it was fatally flawed and the trials should be abandoned.

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Years of investigation and a multi-million pound

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enquiry were in jeopardy.

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The prosecution has expressed incredulity at our complaint

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about the deployment of XY.

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A convicted child rapist who drugged a child,

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then contacted someone else to rape her after he had!

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This is a case where a rapist was put into the field,

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where he was with vulnerable young women when intoxicated.

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There were 30 occasions where it was disclosed by XY

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that he had been at parties.

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The police were happy for him to be going to parties, taking drugs,

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being out of control because of the high

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value of information.

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That is an affront to the public conscious.

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He had committed a series of frauds.

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He was arrested for assaulting someone in a mosque.

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He attempted to incite a female in July 2015.

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He was arrested for breaching the sex offenders' register.

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If the public were told this, would they have confidence

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in the administration of justice?

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It is not difficult to predict what the answer would be.

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Eventually the judge insisted XY should be brought to court.

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By now he and his family had been moved out of the area and were under

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round the clock police protection.

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He gave his evidence from behind a screen and blamed his many

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inconsistencies on the pressure of working as a police informant.

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You have to remember that I've been through a lot.

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It's impossible to remember what's true and what's not.

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You've put me through this.

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If I got shot or died it would have been easier for my wife.

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Then she could keep the kids.

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We know who you are you BLEEP grass!

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At one stage there was an angry confrontation involving

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the men in the dock, men who previously saw XY

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as a friend but now discovered he was paid to spy on them.

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In the end, the Judge threw out the defence's attempt to halt

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the trials and dismissed all of XY's allegations.

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She said he was "wholly unworthy of belief" and rejected

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his evidence entirely.

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The police say their watchdog - the IPCC - has cleared

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them of any wrongdoing.

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The judge, though, said it wasn't her job to rule on the police

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decision to employ XY.

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In effect, I am being asked to substitute my judgment

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about the kind of person who should be used as an informant,

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for the judgment of the officers whose work this is...

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That I decline to do.

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Others, though, are not so restrained.

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Personally I can't envisage circumstances where I would have

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authorised payment to someone convicted of rape.

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Jim Gamble is the former policeman who set up

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the Government's task force to fight child sexual exploitation.

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When you're desperate for intelligence, I can see

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why there may have been an appetite for it.

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I can't imagine how you could have control mechanisms in place

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with an informant of that type, that you were going to task...

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That would give you reassurance, that they didn't still represent

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a risk to young and vulnerable women, given what I know about this

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particular person's history.

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I think all police forces are under pressure to get things right.

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But there are ways and means of doing it.

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In my opinion, they have gone way over the line on this one.

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I certainly wouldn't like to think that someone is out there

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paying my abuser for information.

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Would I be encouraging police forces across the country to go out

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and find a registered sex offender who'd been convicted of a sexual

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assault against a teenage girl to task and use them

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to infiltrate other groups?

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And the answer to that is no.

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This is the murky world in which we have to operate.

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We have to work in the shadows.

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This is the man with ultimate responsibility for taking on XY.

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We have to deal with people who themselves are guilty of some

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of the most vile offences imaginable, we have to consider

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whether we'd pay murderers for information, pay rapists,

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drug dealers and burglars and quite often these people can't be trusted

0:22:130:22:17

but the potential prize is that you just might get a piece

0:22:170:22:20

of information, intelligence, possibly even evidence,

0:22:200:22:22

that might just lead you to a successful conviction

0:22:220:22:24

and you put bad people behind bars.

0:22:240:22:26

But what message does it send to a rape victim that you might be

0:22:260:22:30

paying their attacker?

0:22:300:22:31

I think it sends out a message that we will do everything we can

0:22:310:22:34

to make sure that other women and girls are not victims

0:22:340:22:37

of the same type of atrocity that they have been.

0:22:370:22:39

That's our commitment.

0:22:390:22:41

In principle it sounds like you would use a convicted sex

0:22:410:22:43

offender again in the future?

0:22:440:22:48

Yes, 100% all day and all night and if I'm presented with the same

0:22:480:22:53

problem I'll do exactly the same thing again because if I'm going

0:22:530:22:56

to be able to protect somebody, and in that individual case I'm

0:22:560:22:59

content that we have not only brought dangerous men to justice

0:22:590:23:02

and put them behind bars...

0:23:020:23:03

In some cases we have actually saved lives on the back of information

0:23:030:23:08

that we have gained and now am I going to take that risk again,

0:23:080:23:14

you're damn right, I'm going to.

0:23:140:23:17

It's inside the law, inside accepted policy and practice.

0:23:170:23:20

I get that people might be quite shocked by it but actually this

0:23:200:23:23

is the right thing to do.

0:23:230:23:27

In the three years since it started, Operation Sanctuary has led

0:23:270:23:29

to a series of other spin off operations - covering human

0:23:290:23:32

trafficking, modern day slavery, drugs and firearms offences.

0:23:320:23:38

Northumbria Police say that's resulted in 97 convictions

0:23:380:23:40

and sentences totaling more than 300 years.

0:23:400:23:46

And the last of the four grooming trials ended this week,

0:23:460:23:49

bringing to 18 the number convicted on charges ranging from rape to

0:23:490:23:52

conspiracy to incite prostitution.

0:23:520:23:57

Others like Nadeem Aslam were convicted of supplying drugs

0:23:570:23:59

but cleared of sex charges.

0:23:590:24:03

Some of the offenders have already been given

0:24:030:24:05

long jail sentences - the rest will be

0:24:050:24:06

sentenced in September.

0:24:070:24:13

I'm absolutely satisfied, however difficult it's been,

0:24:130:24:16

I look at the results that we have achieved.

0:24:160:24:18

There are some vile individuals sat in prison today

0:24:180:24:20

because of the dedicated work that officers in Northumbria Police have

0:24:200:24:23

done to encourage victims and complainants to have the courage

0:24:230:24:26

to come forward.

0:24:260:24:28

So have I any regrets about that?

0:24:280:24:30

None.

0:24:300:24:31

Zero.

0:24:310:24:40

So Operation Sanctuary raises many important questions.

0:24:400:24:46

As in dozens of similar cases across England...

0:24:460:24:48

Why were the abusers exclusively Asian men?

0:24:480:24:56

Here was a crime pattern that had existed for at least two decades,

0:24:560:24:59

and from the very first day we ran our very first article,

0:24:590:25:04

which was in January 2011, saying here is a conspiracy

0:25:040:25:06

of silence in acknowledging this.

0:25:060:25:07

Why are you not acknowledging that this pattern exists

0:25:070:25:13

and from that day one

0:25:130:25:16

what we said is what is absolutely crucially needed,

0:25:160:25:19

it's research to understand why this pattern has put down,

0:25:190:25:21

such deep roots that research is still not being carried out.

0:25:210:25:29

Why is it that there appears to be a predominance

0:25:290:25:31

of this type of offending in a particular community?

0:25:310:25:34

I think that community has to be asked that question.

0:25:340:25:36

I think we can take part in that debate but it's

0:25:360:25:39

not led by the police.

0:25:390:25:40

It's a job for society itself.

0:25:400:25:41

And then there's the issue of whether Northumbria Police missed

0:25:410:25:44

chances to intervene years earlier and save vulnerable

0:25:440:25:46

girls from abuse.

0:25:460:25:47

We know the police were aware of numerous contacts between victims

0:25:470:25:49

and their abusers almost four years before Operation

0:25:490:25:51

Sanctuary was launched.

0:25:510:25:56

There was the 13-year-old child in care in Northumberland who told

0:25:560:25:58

the police that she been raped after being held against her will

0:25:580:26:01

by an Asian man in Newcastle.

0:26:010:26:05

No action was taken at the time.

0:26:050:26:12

Two teenage girls were found by the police in a car on a patch

0:26:120:26:15

of wasteland in Newcastle with older men.

0:26:150:26:18

They were drinking and smoking cannabis.

0:26:180:26:23

The officers simply returned the girls to their parents

0:26:230:26:25

and took no further action.

0:26:250:26:28

A known sex offender called Abdul Sabe was spotted with the same

0:26:280:26:31

girls by a probation officer later in the year.

0:26:310:26:33

The police were told and they went to his flat in Walker.

0:26:330:26:37

The girls were drunk.

0:26:370:26:39

But again the police took no action other than taking the girls home,

0:26:390:26:42

and Sabe was back in touch with them soon afterwards.

0:26:420:26:50

In 2012 Bahmani Ahmadi was accused of rape by a 14-year-old girl

0:26:500:26:52

from a Newcastle childrens' home.

0:26:530:26:56

He was interviewed by the police but no action was taken.

0:26:560:26:59

Ahmadi continued to offend and was arrested again in 2014.

0:26:590:27:04

He admitted a string of sexual assaults and jailed

0:27:040:27:06

for six and a half years.

0:27:060:27:11

Police emergency.

0:27:110:27:14

And finally the case where the woman was heard shouting

0:27:140:27:16

for help on a 999 call.

0:27:160:27:21

It's BLEEP rape.

0:27:210:27:22

If you want to go, I ll let you.

0:27:220:27:24

It took six years to bring Abdul Minoyee to justice -

0:27:240:27:27

by which time he'd raped another vulnerable young woman.

0:27:270:27:30

We're not perfect.

0:27:300:27:33

We have encountered one individual officer who should have been far

0:27:330:27:35

more diligent and should have done their job better

0:27:350:27:42

and there were some serious failings in what was evidence in relation

0:27:420:27:45

to one offender and that offender is behind bars and has been

0:27:450:27:48

in prison for a lengthy period of time.

0:27:480:27:51

The officer, we sacked them and I would hope would give some

0:27:510:27:53

reassurance that in the course of this we have been

0:27:530:27:56

absolutely resolute.

0:27:560:28:03

The culture of Northumbria Police now is very, very different

0:28:030:28:05

to that of years ago.

0:28:050:28:06

We understand Newcastle City Council has launched a serious case review

0:28:060:28:09

to examine why vulnerable teenagers in its care were not

0:28:090:28:12

better protected.

0:28:120:28:16

The men responsible for ruining so many young lives

0:28:160:28:18

are facing long sentences.

0:28:180:28:23

For the police this cannot yet be case closed.

0:28:230:28:25

While the difficulty of investigating grooming cases

0:28:250:28:28

can't be underestimated - many are left wondering if it can

0:28:280:28:33

ever be right to pay a child rapist thousands of pounds

0:28:330:28:35

from the public purse?

0:28:350:28:40

Hello, I'm Colleen Harris with your 90 second update.

0:29:150:29:17

Guilty - 18 members of a sex abuse gang who raped and trafficked

0:29:170:29:20

girls as young as 14 in Newcastle.

0:29:200:29:21

Police have defended paying a convicted child rapist ?10,000

0:29:210:29:24

to act as an informant.

0:29:240:29:25

In this Inside Out special investigation, Chris Jackson reports on Operation Sanctuary, the Northumbria Police enquiry into an Asian grooming gang operating in the West End of Newcastle. He reveals how, as part of the operation, police paid a convicted child rapist more than £10,000 to infiltrate the gang that was preying on vulnerable young girls.