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, today (Tuesday, January 28) six more people have been arrested, bringing the total to 19 men and two women, all on suspicion of conspiracy to rape.

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The 15 people detained yesterday 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.

"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.

Yesterday, Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said he was "shocked and appalled" at the nature of the allegations and urged people not to panic.