Twenty five taxi drivers have had their licences taken off them as the shockwaves from Tyneside’s biggest exploitation investigation continue.
The cabbies were taken off the roads following the launch of Operation Shelter, a probe into sex exploitation in Newcastle’s West End.
Chroniclelive reports that the investigation was launched in early 2014 after allegations that vulnerable girls and young women were being abused, and it has resulted in a catalogue of convictions for offences including rape and trafficking for sexual exploitation.
The inquiry forms part of Northumbria Police’s Operation Sanctuary, an ongoing initiative aimed at tackling a wide range of exploitation issues.
As well as bringing 25 people before the courts, police and the local authority have also been carrying out ‘disruption’ activities in a bid to halt exploitation and keep victims safe which has resulted in 25 taxi drivers losing their licences.
A Newcastle City Council spokesman said: “We have used the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to suspend or revoke 25 drivers’ licences both hackney and private hire in relation to allegations of sexual offences.”
Newcastle Crown Court heard that vulnerable girls and young women on Tyneside were sexually exploited and prostituted by a gang of older men in a sinister campaign of abuse.
Troubled girls were lured to parties, known as “sessions”, where they were given drugs and alcohol in return for sex as those involved cruelly took advantage of them for their own twisted ends.
Investigations were launched after allegations came to light in late 2013.
Since then tackling the exploitations of vulnerable people has become a priority for Northumbria Police and Newcastle City Council.
As a result the city council has also been ensuring all taxi drivers are fully aware of the issues surrounding exploitation, and know what to do if they fear someone in their car may be vulnerable to abuse, or suspect they may be carrying a perpetrator. And so far more than 1,000 drivers have received training.
The council spokesman added: “Attendance at Safeguarding Vulnerable Passengers training is now a prerequisite of any new licence application and will be required for renewal of an existing licence. Failure to attend training on two occasions results in the licence being reviewed. To date 1,200 taxi drivers have received vulnerability training.”
Meanwhile the council is disrupting sexual exploitation through a range of other functions.
Door staff have been trained to recognise vulnerability, HMO inspectors are trained to spot signs of exploitation, and over the past three years 3,700 licensed vehicles have been stopped and checked.
The chief executive of Newcastle City Council, Pat Ritchie, said: “In Newcastle we have left no stone unturned. All agencies will continue to work together to disrupt this and help those whose lives it wrecks.”
Eighteen people have been convicted as part of Operation Shelter.