A MAJOR police operation into alleged conspiracy to rape teenage girls and young women has spread to South Tyneside.
On Monday, officers began a series of raids in Newcastle and Gateshead, arresting 21 people.
Yesterday, the operation spread into South Tyneside when a property in the Chichester area of South Shields, pictured, was raided.
A man was seen by witnesses being led away by police while forensic experts entered the property and bags were taken away.
The address was one of three searched by police in South Tyneside and Newcastle in connection with Operation Sanctuary.
Four men were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to rape.
That brings the total since Monday to 25 arrests as detectives continue to probe allegations of sexual assaults on teenage girls and young adult women by a number of men from a range of communities.
Leading the operation is Temporary Assistant Chief Constable, Gary Calvert, who said: “This is a sensitive investigation which is at a very early stage and moving rapidly.
“I understand that these types of allegations can cause the public concern, and I want to reassure the community that police take crimes of this nature extremely seriously and will thoroughly investigate them.
“Our overarching priority is to protect any victims or potential victims and to bring any offenders to justice.
“I must emphasise that the suspects do not come from one community but a range of communities, and it would be very wrong to speculate until we have the full facts, which may take some time.
“The victims include teenage girls as well as young adults.”
“We need the support of local people to help us and I would urge people to come forward with any information they may have.
“Neighbourhood officers, known to their communities, will be on patrol to reassure people and anyone should feel free to speak to them about concerns they may have.”
Police are urging anyone who knows a victim or believes they’ve been a victim themselves to come forward.
People can contact police on 101 or speak to their local neighbourhood officers who are out and about patrolling in the area or call charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Advice and support is also available via Victim Support on 0845 277 0977 or Childline on 0800 1111.