Police chief defends use of child rapist as spy in sex abuse inquiry

Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman during a press conference in Newcastle after police paid a convicted child rapist almost 10,000 to spy on parties where they suspected under-age girls would be intoxicated and sexually abused as part of the force's Operation Shelter into child sexual exploitation in Newcastle. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman during a press conference in Newcastle after police paid a convicted child rapist almost 10,000 to spy on parties where they suspected under-age girls would be intoxicated and sexually abused as part of the force's Operation Shelter into child sexual exploitation in Newcastle. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
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A chief constable has defended his decision to pay a convicted child rapist almost £10,000 to spy on parties where it was suspected under-age girls were fed drugs and sexually abused.

The NSPCC was "appalled" Northumbria Police chief Steve Ashman authorised the paedophile's deployment, which can only be reported now that 18 people have been convicted or admitted offences prosecuted in a series of trials related to child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Newcastle.

Under-age girls were groomed at parties with drugs before rape

The informant, known only as XY, was recruited despite being a sex offender who had drugged an under-age girl and invited another man to rape her after he had done so, Newcastle Crown Court heard.

Years later, the force recruited him to work as an informant on the massive Operation Sanctuary inquiry, one strand of which, known as Operation Shelter, has just finished going through the courts.

Mr Ashman, who is due to retire, said in a statement: "We know concerns have been raised about our use of a police Informant known as XY.

"XY was an authorised covert human intelligence source (CHIS), an informant, who was able to report on criminality including CSE.

"He was a convicted rapist and to some of us the thought of the police engaging with such a person and paying them for information may appear repugnant, 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.

"The lawful and regulated use of such tactics is always overseen by a senior police officer and is also subject to review by an independent body.

"Furthermore in this case the handling of XY by Northumbria Police was the subject of an independent investigation by the IPCC in which no misconduct was found nor any recommendations made whatsoever.

"In the case of XY it is clear that his relationships with others have allowed the police to prevent and detect some of the most serious crimes occurring in our communities, this would not have been possible through conventional methods."

But Jon Brown, of the NSPCC, said: "We are appalled to learn that police paid a child rapist and planted him in the midst of vulnerable young girls.

"You just couldn't make it up.

"It beggars belief that it would ever have been considered, let alone approved, and serious questions must be asked about the force's approach to child sexual exploitation operations."

The force's police and crime commissioner Vera Baird said it was a difficult decision to use XY.

She said: "I would have wished this man not to be used, in particular because of his conviction for rape.

"But, I have questioned the chief constable and, in liaison with other senior officers, Mr Ashman has satisfied me that the difficult moral decision to use the informant was taken with care and with particular regard to the welfare of victims.

"I am assured that the information this male supplied has contributed to the investigation and hence to the prosecution of these dangerous men, that it could not have been obtained in any other way, and that it will have ensured the speedier rescue and safeguarding of vulnerable women who would otherwise have continued to suffer abuse."

The startling information about XY came out during pre-trial hearings in Newcastle which attempted, but failed, to halt prosecutions against a number of men accused of a range of serious offences including drug dealing and sexually abusing girls.

During the proceedings in October and November, more than 20 prosecution and defence barristers in wigs were in court arguing whether the cases of more than 10 men should be thrown out.

Defending barristers argued the public's confidence in the justice system would be "diminished" if the trials went ahead, given that the rapist XY had acted as an informant, formally known as a covert human intelligence source, or "CHIS".

Robin Patton, representing one of the defendants, said XY was paid £9,680 over 21 months by Northumbria Police for informing.

Mr Patton said XY was a "convicted child rapist who drugged a child and invited someone else to rape her after he had" and was subject to a suspended sentence when he was deployed by police in 2014.

Mr Patton said police claimed they carried out a risk assessment, but that the "very next day" after he was recruited, XY was in court for a dishonesty offence.

In September 2015 XY was arrested on suspicion of inciting sexual activity with a child after a teenage girl claimed a man approached her and made an indecent proposition.

The informant was later told he would face no action after he took part in an identity parade.

Mr Patton said: "I have tried to think of convictions that make him less suitable to act as a CHIS in an operation of this sort... I have not been able to."

David Hislop QC, representing another defendant, said XY had 13 previous convictions, including 26 offences of dishonesty.

During the legal submissions, XY gave evidence to the court and made a series of lurid allegations against the police, including claims of racism and that he was asked to plant drugs.

Judge Penny Moreland rejected his evidence in its entirety, describing it as "inherently unreliable" and "clearly dishonest".

XY claimed he was recruited because he acted as an informal taxi driver for some of the defendants.

"I would get to know where they pick up their drugs, where the parties were," he said.

At another point, he claimed: "I was chilling with the boys. I had to make it look like I was their friend."

He told the abuse of process hearing that police tasked him "to find out what was going on in the area, when parties were taking place, where there was criminal activity".

"There were certain individuals they were very interested in, which I was close to," he said.

He added: "When I worked for (Operation) Sanctuary I actually believed I was doing good.

"I never, ever thought it was bad. I enjoyed it."

As well as receiving money, police informants were given "texts", secret letters that could be put before a judge if they were convicted of an offence to gain a more lenient sentence.

Judge Moreland turned down the abuse of process application, ordering the trials of the defendants should not be thrown out.

She added: "I do not regard myself as bound to act on evidence which is so inherently unreliable, so lacking in credibility and in my view so clearly dishonest."

She also found there was no evidence that XY was guilty of any sexual misconduct towards any complainants in the cases.

XY had told the court he went to one or two parties but left "because I knew what was coming, before it was coming".

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