A serious case review into sexual exploitation in the North East has found no evidence of systemic failures on the scale seen in other high-profile abuse scandals.
The review led by David Spicer following Operation Sanctuary, which resulted in 18 people jailed for the sexual abuse of young women groomed in Newcastle, concluded there is a likelihood that vulnerable women are being “extensively” abused across the country.
But Mr Spicer said evidence had not emerged senior figures had ignored warnings of sexual exploitation, as happened when 1,400 children were abused in Rotherham.
The review found there was a “stark contrast” in the effectiveness of services once Operation Sanctuary was launched in 2014, when a 21-year-old woman with a learning disability told police she had been a victim of sexual exploitation over a long period.
However, Mr Spicer said prior to 2014 there were “many examples of excellent practice and consistent, committed support for victims where professionals had gone above and beyond what might have been expected and worked outside of thresholds persistently and tenaciously with a creative approach to safeguard victims.”
He said practitioners had reported their uncertainty over how to manage the risks victims faced and a sense cases “feeling stuck”.
Mr Spicer also found an acceptance that successful prosecutions were unlikely to have led to inconsistent police attendance at multi-agency safeguarding meetings.
He said authorities did not have the powers to intervene to stop adults “making bad choices” or forming “inappropriate relationships”.
Mr Spicer added: “Very considerable energy and resources were undermined by the continuing influence of the abusers.”
The review found while some “excellent” examples of multi-agency working were found, practitioners reported examples of professionals “working in silos without understanding the full picture”.
Mr Spicer said the large scale sexual exploitation in Newcastle was different to other areas as it involved vulnerable adults.
His report adds: “In addition, there is no evidence in Newcastle that decisions about taking action were affected by lack of concern or interest, misplaced fears about political correctness or fear of being seen as racist, ineffective leadership or inappropriate interference by senior official or political leaders to prevent action being taken that have been features of reviews carried out elsewhere.”
The safeguarding arrangements in Newcastle were praised by Mr Spicer, who said success “depended on flexible and testing interpretations of legislation and processes”.
The report adds: “Legislation and guidance will never keep up with the changing nature of risks and effective safeguarding depends on adopting an imaginative and creative approach, working closely with proactive, specialist lawyers to explore all options and expose weaknesses.”
Operation Sanctuary has identified about 700 victims in total across the Northumbria Police area.