A TOTAL of 21 people have now been arrested as part of an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of teenage girls and young adults in the North East.
Northumbria Police have carried out further raids in Newcastle and Gateshead on a number of properties as they reacted to information about a series of sexual assaults.
As part of Operation Sanctuary, six more people were arrested, bringing the total to 19 men and two women, all on suspicion of conspiracy to rape.
The 15 people detained earlier have been bailed pending further inquiries.
Police said some of the victims were in care when the alleged offending took place and that their priority was to protect them and ensure their safety.
The alleged offenders are said to be from “a range of communities” and police have urged against speculating about their background.
Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Gary Calvert said: “Our priorities remain to arrest those believed to be responsible for these offences and to offer support to safeguard those victims already identified, while encouraging anyone else who believes they may know or have been a victim themselves to talk to us.
“If there are any women and girls who have been involved in this activity, even if they don’t believe they’re a victim, we’d still like to speak to them.
“Our stage of the operation will continue over the next few days and we would still urge the public to come forward and help us.”
The police said the investigation, which was launched a few weeks ago, was sparked after they received information from an alleged victim.
But they indicated that they did not yet know the full scale of the offending and how wide it might reach.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said he was shocked and appalled at the nature of the allegations and urged people not to panic.
He said as soon as staff became aware that some of the alleged victims were in the care system, the authority acted to ensure their safety.
“I’m sure I speak on behalf of the entire city when I say how shocked and appalled I am by the alleged nature of these offences,” he said.
“It’s vital that communities pull together through this difficult time and co-operate with the police in what I know is going to be a very extensive investigation over the next few weeks.”