POLICE have arrested eight people in connection with a series of sexual assaults following raids on several properties across the North-East today (Monday, January 27).

Northumbria Police has launched an investigation called Operation Sanctuary following information about a series of sexual assaults involving a number of men from a range of communities and female victims.

A dedicated team of specialist officers has been set up and, as part of the investigation, searches are being carried out on properties, predominantly in Newcastle - but also in other locations across the force area.

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Eleven properties were searched this morning and eight people arrested - seven men and one woman - for conspiracy to rape.

A police spokesman said the investigation was at an early stage and the priority was to protect victims and any potential victims, while forensic teams secure important evidence.

Officers are working closely with local authorities and safeguarding partners to ensure the correct support is in place for victims.

All those arrested and addresses searched were identified as a direct result of information gathered by police about specific individuals.

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 are working closely with our partners, in particular the local authorities, and are grateful for their co-operation. I would stress there is nothing to suggest there is any risk to the general public as we believe the victims and suspects were known to each other.

“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.”

Anyone with information can contact police on 101 or speak to their local neighbourhood officers who are out and about patrolling in the area.

They can also ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555111. Advice and support is also available at Victim Support on 0845 277 0977 or Childline 0800 1111.