Inside Out: Operation Sanctuary

Photo taken by Phil Brown.[email protected]

This special edition of the BBC’s regional news programme Inside Out aired tonight nationally on BBC News at 20.30 and on BBC One in the North East and Cumbria an hour before.

It covered the recently revealed details of Operation Sanctuary, which resulted in the conviction of 18 people, mostly Asian men, of sex offences in Newcastle. Presenter Chris Jackson looks into the details of the operation which lasted six years, in which women and girls as young as 13 were the victims of rape, sexual assault and trafficking.

It also deals with the most controversial element of the operation: the use of a CHIS (Covert Human Intelligence Source), i.e. an informer, to spy on the offenders to get more information. The informer, who can only be known as XY for legal reasons, was a convicted child rapist with 53 convictions to his unknown name. He was paid over £10,000 during his time informing Northumbria Police, but later fell out with the police over allegations of racism among other things. The falling out nearly resulted in the entire operation collapsing, and XY’s evidence was deemed unreliable.

The programme does attempt to present a balanced view of whether the use of XY was acceptable, with interviews with sex abuse victims and law enforcers who object to the use of such a tactic, along with an interview with Chief Constable Steve Ashman, who said he would be prepared to do the same thing again if it would result in putting more people behind bars.

The entire documentary makes for uncomfortable viewing, given the subject matter and controversial methods used to try and obtain information. Was it worth paying so much to convicted sex offender, or indeed to a similar criminal? I don’t know and I wouldn’t want to make any such judgment.

What I can say was it was interesting the way Inside Out used so many reconstructions to try and highlight what was really going on, as well as using slowed-down and sped-up film, mixing transcripts read by actors and interviews with real-life people involved with the case or other aspects of this investigation.

If I do have an objection with the programme, it was the presenter Chris Jackson, when he talked about how these acts were committed by exclusively Asian men. A quick look tells you that one of the 18 people convicted was a white woman who pled guilty to trafficking. It is true to say that the offences were committed mostly by Asian men, and there are similar cases to this in other parts in the country, but other people were involved too.

Inside Out is on BBC iPlayer.