NEARLY 100 cases of children in care going missing in the North-East every year, it has been revealed.

Figures obtained from the seven local councils by a BBC Newcastle investigation also reveal that in the five years to April 2019, there had been nearly 500 incidents.

In Sunderland, where children's services are run by Together for Children, there were 118 cases of missing children in the five years - the highest figure in the region.

Newcastle City Council reviewed and updated its procedures on children missing from care 2 years ago following Operation Sanctuary which saw a grooming gang jailed for exploiting girls for sex - some living in care.

But the figures show that since then almost 40 cases of children reported missing from council run homes in Newcastle.

One of the ‘missing’ children is now a teenager but went into the care system at the age of eight. His home life fell apart after his dad died.

He wanted to remain anonymous but told BBC Newcastle he was being physically abused in care so would run away every night and sleep rough under a bush outside his school.

He said: “I hated it…I was the only baby and it was so scary. I ran away and slept outside school because I had nowhere else safe to go and slept in a couple of bushes outside the front.”

“I’ve had carers call me scum and rubbish…. I feel like the council needs to realise the impact which they could have on young people. There are a good majority of children in care who are just being let down.”

MP Ann Coffey, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children, said: “There has been a lot of concern recently about children being groomed by criminal gangs to run and supply drugs and if children, particularly boys, are going missing for long periods of time one would be concerned they are being subjected to that kind of exploitation.”

Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said: “Those are really worrying numbers. If any children are missing then it’s a real concern because they are going to be really vulnerable but if they are the most vulnerable children, which children in care are, it is even more concerning.

“Any parent would be distraught if they couldn’t find their child for the shortest of time and I would hope that any council who had responsibility for those children would be equally distraught as they are the parents in those situations.”

The findings come two years after a grooming gang was jailed for exploiting girls for sex in Newcastle, with some of the victims living in care.

Laura Christer, from the charity West End Women and Girls, fears girls in care are still being targeted today.

A Newcastle City council spokesperson said: “The sexual exploitation of women and girls is one of the biggest challenges society faces.

“While an independent report found victims received effective protection and support - once the scale of the problem was uncovered - we continue to work all the time with partners to help victims come forward.

“Sexual exploitation is an extremely complex issue but by better understanding it we believe we can be more effective in helping to prevent it. It is an appalling crime which destroys lives but we are doing everything in our power to tackle it.”

All the children affected were returned to care.