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Police paid convicted child rapist to spy on Newcastle sex abusers

August 11, 2017 ·  By Frances Perraudin for www.theguardian.com

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Northumbria police gave man known as XY nearly £10,000 over 21 months in order to gather evidence for Operation Shelter

After he was recruited by police, XY was arrested in 2015 on suspicion of a sexual offence against an underage girl. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/for the Guardian

After he was recruited by police, XY was arrested in 2015 on suspicion of a sexual offence against an underage girl. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/for the Guardian

A convicted child rapist was controversially paid nearly £10,000 by police to spy on the network of men who were sexually abusing young women and girls in Newcastle, it can now be reported.

The court was told that Northumbria police paid the man, referred to as XY, £9,680 over 21 months to find out about the times and whereabouts of parties where girls were being plied with drugs and alcohol.

The revelation has prompted criticism from child protection groups, with the NSPCC saying that the police’s decision to pay a child rapist and “plant him in the midst of vulnerable young girls” raised serious questions about the force’s approach to child sexual exploitation operations.

The use of the police informant emerged during a pre-trial hearing at Newcastle crown court. Barristers acting on behalf of the defendants attempted to get the cases thrown out because of XY’s involvement. They highlighted allegations made by XY of police misconduct, particularly against his handler, and argued that he was unsuitable to be an informant.

Robin Patton, representing one of the defendants, said XY, a British Asian man in his 30s, was convicted of raping a child in 2002, having drugged her and invited someone else to rape her after he had. The court heard that XY was also subject to a suspended sentence at the time he was paid by police.

After he was recruited, XY was arrested in 2015 on suspicion of a sexual offence against an underage girl who claimed that a man had approached her and made an indecent proposition. The case was later dropped. The court also heard that XY had 13 previous convictions, including 26 offences of dishonesty.

Patton said public confidence in the administration of justice would be “substantially diminished” if they knew police had chosen such an individual to help their investigation into the exploitation of young people.

During the course of the hearing, which was open to journalists but not the general public, XY gave evidence from behind a screen. XY said he was recruited because he acted as an informal taxi driver for some of the defendants. Despite police claims to the contrary, XY said he had attended one or two parties, but left “because I knew what was coming, before it was coming”.

The court also heard that XY had 13 previous convictions, including 26 offences of dishonesty.

During his evidence he made a series of allegations against the police, including one of racism, claiming his handler was only interested in gathering evidence on Asian males. But the judge, Penny Moreland, dismissed XY’s evidence as “inherently unreliable”, “lacking in credibility” and “clearly dishonest”.

Dismissing the application to get the case thrown out based on XY’s evidence, the judge said there was no evidence of police misconduct or that XY was guilty of any sexual misconduct towards the complainants.

Jon Brown, the lead expert on tackling child sexual abuse at the NSPCC, condemned the fact that XY’s involvement in the case had “ever have been considered, let alone approved”. He said it was right that the men were behind bars: “What we mustn’t forget in all this is the victims who were preyed on by a series of despicable men for their own sexual gratification.”

Despite police claims to the contrary, XY said he had attended one or two parties, but left “because I knew what was coming, before it was coming”.

Northumbria police’s chief constable, Steve Ashman, who recently announced his retirement, said he understood that the fact police paid and engaged with XY “may appear repugnant”, adding that it was unpalatable to him “as a man, a human being, and a father”.

“However he proved he was in a position whereby he could, and did, alert police to situations which allowed them to prevent offending and provide safeguarding measures towards potential victims,” Ashman said. He added that detecting the crimes “would not have been possible using conventional methods.”

The use of such tactics was always overseen by a senior police officer and was subject to review by an independent body, Ashman said. The force’s handling of XY was the subject of an independent investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which found no evidence of misconduct. Police said that not one of the girls who had been abused by the gang had been critical of the force’s investigation.

Dame Vera Baird QC, the Northumbria police and crime commissioner, said she would “have wished this man not to be used, in particular because of his conviction for rape”.

She said she had questioned the chief constable about his decision and was satisfied that “the difficult moral decision to use the informant was taken with care and with particular regard to the welfare of victims”.

Police said that not one of the girls who had been abused by the gang had been critical of the force’s investigation.

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