Vera Baird

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Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner comments on Spicer report

28th February 2018

PCC for Northumbria Dame Vera Baird QC today commented on the Spicer report, the outcome of the serious case review following exploitation of vulnerable children and adults in Newcastle and Operation Sanctuary.

Dame Vera said: “Mr Spicer’s report is comprehensive and very welcome. He makes clear that the establishment of Operation Sanctuary by Northumbria Police transformed their response to sexual exploitation of the vulnerable so that they are now a national model. They have moved from a “victim led” approach, in which concerns about choice and consent made the police uncertain and sometimes unsympathetic, since most of the victims were adult and, on the face of it, entitled to make bad decisions and poor choices of companion. Instead they have adopted a “victim focused” approach which puts the victim first but requires informed empathetic and speedy intervention reliant upon professional decisions by the police.

“He states that before 2013 Northumbria Police did not believe that there was a problem of sexual exploitation. There were isolated cases which came to police attention and some were not dealt with well.

“However, once some very courageous young women came forward and talked about the exploitation they experienced, Operation Sanctuary was immediately begun in January 2014. Additionally, Mr Spicer says that thereafter that Northumbria Police ‘carried out a rigorous review of a number of previous police investigations to consider if there were any missed opportunities.’

“Mr Spicer describes that ‘the inter-agency response was swift, determined and committed’. It led to disruption, prosecution and conviction of significant numbers of perpetrators and lengthy prison sentences.

“Large numbers of victims have been identified, supported and protected. The high quality of services has attracted independent national recognition.

“He continues, ‘in Newcastle decisions about taking action were not influenced by lack of concern or interest, misplaced fears about political correctness or fear of being seen as racist. Neither was there any evidence of ineffective leadership or inappropriate interference by senior officials or political leaders to prevent action being taken that have been a feature of reviews elsewhere.’

“This is a significant police operation carried out with the strong support of Newcastle City Council and some excellent voluntary sector organisations who all played a key role in supporting victims, assessing their position and sustaining them. Every agency which could be involved has been brought forward to help and support and the police have investigated and prosecuted with the now well-known success of a large number of convictions and high sentences.

“Mr Spicer makes over 30 recommendations. They do not argue for any improvement in Northumbria police practice but include that the PCC with the police, CPS and safeguarding boards should try to improve practical court arrangements to protect victims giving evidence. 

“Nationally, his recommendations include that the government  ‘should arrange for a review of the rules relating to disclosure of records (and) their use in proceedings.’ Mr Spicer says that ‘damaged and vulnerable individuals are knowingly exposed to distressing material without notice and to an experience (in cross-examination) calculated to confuse intimidate and cause them further damage and distress. There is a strong argument that this is inhuman and degrading treatment prohibited by European Convention on human rights and does not lead to fair administration of justice.’

“Northumbria Police themselves have said that they are far from complacent, recognising, in particular, the need to become more consistent in their approach to this complex area of offending. They appreciate their early failures and are now determinedly committed. They believe that there is further sexual exploitation and that the only obstacle to forces here and elsewhere finding it is if they don’t look.”

Sanctuary continues.