Police chief defends use of child rapist as spy in sex abuse inquiry

Police chief defends use of child rapist as spy in sex abuse inquiry

Update - 4.3pm: A chief constable has defended his decision to pay a convicted child rapist almost £10,000 to spy on parties where it was suspected under-age girls were fed drugs and sexually abused.

The NSPCC was "appalled" Northumbria Police chief Steve Ashman authorised the paedophile's deployment, which can only be reported now that 18 people have been convicted or admitted offences prosecuted in a series of trials related to child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Newcastle.

The informant, known only as XY, was recruited despite being a sex offender who had drugged an under-age girl and invited another man to rape her after he had done so, Newcastle Crown Court heard.

Years later, the force recruited him to work as an informant on the massive Operation Sanctuary inquiry, one strand of which, known as Operation Shelter, has just finished going through the courts.

Mr Ashman, who is due to retire, said in a statement: "We know concerns have been raised about our use of a police Informant known as XY.

"XY was an authorised covert human intelligence source (CHIS), an informant, who was able to report on criminality including CSE.

"He was a convicted rapist and to some of us the thought of the police engaging with such a person and paying them for information may appear repugnant, however he proved he was in a position whereby he could, and did, alert police to situations which allowed them to prevent offending and provide safeguarding measures towards potential victims.

"The lawful and regulated use of such tactics is always overseen by a senior police officer and is also subject to review by an independent body.

"Furthermore in this case the handling of XY by Northumbria Police was the subject of an independent investigation by the IPCC in which no misconduct was found nor any recommendations made whatsoever.

"In the case of XY it is clear that his relationships with others have allowed the police to prevent and detect some of the most serious crimes occurring in our communities, this would not have been possible through conventional methods."

But Jon Brown, of the NSPCC, said: "We are appalled to learn that police paid a child rapist and planted him in the midst of vulnerable young girls.

"You just couldn't make it up.

"It beggars belief that it would ever have been considered, let alone approved, and serious questions must be asked about the force's approach to child sexual exploitation operations."

The force's police and crime commissioner Vera Baird said it was a difficult decision to use XY.

She said: "I would have wished this man not to be used, in particular because of his conviction for rape.

"But, I have questioned the chief constable and, in liaison with other senior officers, Mr Ashman has satisfied me that the difficult moral decision to use the informant was taken with care and with particular regard to the welfare of victims.

"I am assured that the information this male supplied has contributed to the investigation and hence to the prosecution of these dangerous men, that it could not have been obtained in any other way, and that it will have ensured the speedier rescue and safeguarding of vulnerable women who would otherwise have continued to suffer abuse."

The startling information about XY came out during pre-trial hearings in Newcastle which attempted, but failed, to halt prosecutions against a number of men accused of a range of serious offences including drug dealing and sexually abusing girls.

Update - 3.41pm: 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.

Undated handout photo issued by Northumbia Police of Monjur Choudhury who has been found guilty following the force's Operation Shelter into child sexual exploitation in Newcastle.
Undated handout photo issued by Northumbia Police of Monjur Choudhury who has been found guilty following the force's Operation Shelter into child sexual exploitation in Newcastle.

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.

Earlier: Police paid a convicted a child rapist almost £10,000 to spy on parties where they suspected under-age girls would be intoxicated and sexually abused, a court heard.

He was recruited despite being a sex offender who had drugged an under-age girl and invited another man to rape her after he had done so, a court heard.

Years later, the man, who can only be identified by the media as XY, was tasked by Northumbria Police to assist their investigation into child sexual exploitation in Newcastle.

Subsequent trials which followed Operation Shelter, until now unreportable, have heard girls were groomed by men who gave them cannabis, alcohol and the designer drug Mkat at parties, then encouraged into having sex.

The startling information came out during pre-trial hearings at Newcastle Crown Court which attempted but failed to halt prosecutions against a number of men accused of a range of serious offences including drug dealing and sexually abusing girls.

During proceedings which can only now be reported, more than 20 prosecution and defence barristers in wigs were in court arguing whether the cases of more than 10 men should be thrown out.

Defending barristers argued that the public's confidence in the justice system would be undermined if the trials went ahead, given that the rapist had acted as an informant, formally known as a Covert Human Intelligence Source, or "CHIS".

Robin Patton, representing one of the defendants, said the rapist was paid £9,680 over 21 months by Northumbria Police for informing.

Mr Patton said that the rapist was a "convicted child rapist who drugged a child and invited someone else to rape her after he had" and was subject to a suspended sentence when he was deployed by police in 2014.

He said the confidence of the public in the administration of justice would be "substantially diminished" if they knew police had chosen "such an individual" to help their investigation into the exploitation and possible use of drugs by young people.

Police claimed they carried out a risk assessment, but that the "very next day" after he was recruited, the man in question was in court for a dishonesty offence.

After he was recruited, he was arrested in September 2015 on suspicion of inciting sexual activity with a child after a teenage girl claimed a man approached her and made an indecent proposition.

The informant was later told he would face no action after he took part in an identity parade.

Also on the Sex Offenders' Register, he failed to notify police he had moved house, Mr Patton said.

"I have tried to think of convictions that make him less suitable to act as a CHIS in an operation of this sort... I have not been able to,” he said.

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