Our coverage of Operation Sanctuary has ended for the day.
For the first time, we have been able to report how 17 men and one woman have been convicted of grooming and abusing vulnerable girls and women across Newcastle.
Campaigners condemned the practice saying it is a "kick in the teeth" for victims:
We have also told how police brought down the network of sex offenders:
And Inside Out in the North East and Cumbria has a special programme on BBC One at 19:30 and on the BBC News Channel at 20.30.
This photo has been issued by Northumbria Police showing the designer drug M-Kat, which was used to groom girls at parties across Newcastle.
Today Chief Constable Steve Ashman said dangerous men would not be behind bars if he had not decided to pay a convicted child rapist almost £10,000 to spy on these 'sessions' where it was suspected under-age girls were fed drugs and sexually abused.Copyright: Northumbria Police
BBC Inside Out
Sarah (not her real name) was 19, extremely vulnerable and unable to look after herself.
Along with other at-risk teenagers she was regularly abused by older men.
In the new year of 2014, Sarah told the police she'd been raped by Abdul Minoyee.
A police officer took Sarah on a tour of the West End to try identify Minoyee's house and car and other places where these "parties" had taken place.
Sarah's information was a red flag - the abuse was on a much bigger scale.
The detective in charge of Sarah's case told his bosses that what she had said signalled something much bigger.
Days later the officer's hunch was given added weight when two girls in care reported that they'd been repeatedly raped by a group of older Asian men.
The girls were aged 14 and 15.
They described being driven into Newcastle where they were plied with alcohol and cocaine before being raped and beaten by several men.
They were given money before being returned home.
Det Supt Steve Barron, from Northumbria Police, says no one can imagine the abuse the victims have gone through.
The editor of Inside Out in the North East and Cumbria has written a blog about how the BBC fought to report this story:
Here's a snippet:
Spring 2016. Inside Out Producer Dan Farthing rings from Newcastle Crown Court.
“You will not believe what I have just heard…” and what he went on to describe was indeed pretty extraordinary.
Dan was following a series of interlinked trials of more than twenty Asian men, accused of grooming vulnerable young teenagers in the west end of Newcastle. Reporting restrictions banning broadcasts until the conclusion of the final trial meant we’d seen little early evidence of Dan’s regular days on the press bench.Copyright: BBC
Then, out of the blue, the prosecution revealed Northumbria Police had used a CHIS - a covert human intelligence source - to supply information on so-called “parties” where teenagers were plied with drink and drugs and sexually assaulted.
The BBC successfully argued against an attempt to bar the media from a hearing which revealed the full details of a convicted child rapist who was being paid as an informant by Northumbria Police.
Last year, an abuse of process hearing in Newcastle heard from the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, as lawyers tried to get the trials thrown out.
Defence lawyer David Comb said: "This is a case where a rapist was put into the field, where he was with vulnerable young women when intoxicated... there were 30 occasions where it was disclosed by XY that he had been at parties.
"The police were happy for him to be going to parties, taking drugs, being out of control, because of the high value of information. That is an affront to the public conscience."Copyright: BBC
XY - who by now had been moved, along with his family, out of the area and was under round-the-clock police protection - was called to court and gave his evidence from behind a screen.
He was questioned on what police had asked him to do, and blamed his many inconsistencies on the pressure of working as an informant.
"You have to remember that I've been through a lot. It's impossible to remember what's true and what's not. You've put me through this," he said.
"If I got shot or died it would have been easier for my wife."
At the hearing, Judge Penny Moreland dismissed all of XY's allegations against the police, saying he was "wholly unworthy of belief" and rejected the defence's attempt to halt the trials.
Dipu Ahad is a councillor in Newcastle's West End, where most victims were targeted.
He said:Quote Message: I can't even breathe, this is how disgusting this has been, full of anxiety and a lot of people are anxious but disgusted with this disgraceful act by men who felt it was OK to groom vulnerable women in our communities.Quote Message: First and foremost it's important to say that our hearts go out to these women, but also how brave these women were - we need to praise them for that.Quote Message: It's a sickening crime and it's broken our communities - everyone's worried, everyone's saddened by this and I think we just need to work together and make sure it never happens again in our city."
More details now on the police officer who was sacked for failing to investigate a Newcastle sex offender's phone.
Northumbria Chief Constable Steve Ashman said the officer was dismissed after his actions were found to be "grossly negligent".
The officer had sight of Bahmani Ahmadi's phone but did not "interrogate" it when he dealt with a complaint from a teenage girl in 2012.
If the handset had been checked, it could have revealed the extent of his grooming, police said.Copyright: PA
Mr Ashman said at a news conference: "It was evident that an officer who had had an opportunity to investigate an individual offender hadn't done a very good job at all.
"In fact the standard of investigation fell so far short of what I would expect that we deemed it to be grossly negligent and he was dismissed."
Newcastle City Council said 22 women and girls whose evidence helped convict 18 sex offenders on Tyneside had been "brave beyond belief".
The authority worked closely with Northumbria Police following the launch of Operation Sanctuary in early 2014.
More than 700 victims have been identified throughout the Northumbria force area, and a Serious Case Review to establish what lessons can be learned and how to improve safeguarding will report in December.
Council leader Nick Forbes said: “These were vile crimes committed by evil men against vulnerable women and girls as young as 14.
“The victims who went to court had to relive their ordeals in giving evidence and face their perpetrators. Some have suffered the trauma of having do it more than once.
“I can’t begin to imagine how difficult that must be, but I would like to pay tribute to each and every one of them. They have been brave beyond belief and undoubtedly have made our safer city.”
Newcastle City Council chief executive Pat Ritchie says "my heart goes out" to all the victims of Operation Sanctuary.
A police officer has been sacked over their failings in handling child sex abuse in Newcastle, it can be reported.
Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman said the officer "should have done their job better".
He said: "We’re not perfect. We have encountered one individual officer who should have been far more diligent and should have done their job better, and there was some serious failings in what was evidence in relation to one offender, and that offender is behind bars and has been in prison for a lengthy period of time.
"The officer, we sacked them, and I would hope that would give some reassurance that in the course of this, we have been absolutely resolute, and the culture of Northumbria police now is very, very different to that of years ago."Copyright: BBC
The convictions of 18 people today are the culmination of Operation Shelter - part of Operation Sanctuary, a long-running Northumbria Police investigation into the abuse of vulnerable girls and young women.
During the course of the inquiry the force paid a convicted rapist - known as XY as he cannot be named for legal reasons - to act as an informant.
Det Supt Steve Barron, from Northumbria Police, says the victims were made aware before today of the involvement of XY in the investigation:Quote Message: We of course have shared what we could with those people, and explained what we can with them, and I'm content to say that of the girls that have gone through the Shelter trials, not one of them has been critical of the work we've done."Copyright: BBC
The chief executive of Newcastle City Council, Pat Richie, paid tribute to the victims of Operation Sanctuary:Quote Message: My heart goes out to all those affected by the heinous crimes which Operation Sanctuary has exposed and I want to pay tribute to the victims for the courage they have shown in giving evidence which has helped put many of these men behind bars.Quote Message: No-one should underestimate the trauma that these young women and children have gone through but undoubtedly they have helped to make our communities safer places by their actions.Quote Message: We do not believe that what we have uncovered in Newcastle is unique. Indeed there has been evidence of similar offending in many other towns and cities.Quote Message: We believe that any area that says that it does not have a problem is simply not looking for it and I would encourage all areas to be be proactive in their attempts to uncover sexual exploitation."
Children's charity the NSPCC has condemned the payment of £10,300 to a convicted rapist to act as an informant during the Northumbria Police investigation into the sexual abuse of vulnerable girls.
Their expert on tackling child sexual abuse, Jon Brown, 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.
“However good the force’s intentions, their misguided actions run entirely counter to all current child protection procedures and what we know about sex offenders and could have compromised this investigation.
“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. It is right that these men are now behind bars.”
Newcastle City Council's chief executive Pat Ritchie says the systematic abuse of girls on Tyneside is "sadly not unique".
She said: “My heart goes out to all victims of sexual exploitation. No one should underestimate the ordeal that these women and girls have gone through.
“We do not believe that what we have uncovered in Newcastle is unique.Copyright: BBC
"Sadly, there is evidence of sexual exploitation in just about every other town and city in the country and anyone who says they do not have it are not looking for it.
“In Newcastle we have left no stone unturned. All agencies will continue to work together to disrupt this and help those whose lives it wrecks.
“Tackling this problem is everyone’s responsibility and let me assure anyone who is a victim that they can come forward and speak in confidence to a member of our Sexual Exploitation Hub who will make sure they get access to the high quality support services that they need.”
Northumbria's police and crime commissioner has defended a £10,000 payment to a convicted rapist to act as an informant in the investigation into a grooming gang on Tyneside.
Dame Vera Baird said: "I was made aware, in course of the trials that to facilitate this operation, Northumbria Police had intermittently used a paid, registered informant.
"This man was a criminal, with a conviction for rape as a teenager, and with later convictions for dishonesty and other offences which gave him access into the same circles as these exploiters.
"In 2016 this man turned against police making allegations of misconduct. A full investigation was held by IPCC who found that Northumbria Police had no case to answer.
"An application by the defence to stop the trials on the basis of use of the informant was rejected by a judge and the trials continued.Copyright: BBC
"The decision to use this informant was an operational one, which could only be taken by police.
"However, I have a duty on behalf of the public of Northumbria to hold the chief constable to account for a matter which concerns a sum of public money and an issue of the highest public interest.
"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."
For that reason, Newcastle City Council has launched a serious case review.
Pat Ritchie, the council's chief executive, said: "I am so sorry that that happened, I can only apologise - it's one too many.
"We did act as soon as we knew what had happened to that young woman, and in a number of instances we've taken young women out of the city and supported them in secure accommodation elsewhere.
"But that's the sort of detail which will come out in the serious case review."Copyright: BBC