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8 March 2019, 13:31 | Updated: 8 March 2019, 15:43
An alleged North East grooming gang have been cleared after errors by Northumbria Police led to the collapse of their trials.
The force has said sorry to three women, who came forward to report that they'd been victims of child sexual exploitation about 10 years ago.
The group of men were accused of offences including rape, trafficking and grooming, and were due to stand trial at Newcastle Crown Court.
But problems around the way police got hold of evidence repeatedly came up during the first trial, which lead to it's collapse this week.
The Crown Prosecution Service then decided the others shouldn't go ahead, so the defendants have walked free.
Chief Superintendent Scott Hall, head of the force's Safeguarding Department, praised the women for coming forward.
He said: "We have visited each to apologise for police failings which resulted in the cases not going ahead at court.
"These centred around how some evidence had been secured without meeting strict guidelines governing investigations.
"We will now conduct a review to understand how the failings occurred and it would therefore be inappropriate to comment any further at this stage."
After the alleged victims came forward, Northumbria Police launched Operation Optic.
Due to the complexity and size of the case separate jurys had to be sworn in for a series of different trials.
We, and other media outlets, were unable to report on the trials until they were complete, to avoid jeopardising any proceedings.
But now the men have been cleared of all charges - we can.
The Crown Prosecution Service say, the way police secured evidence wasn't in line with strict guidelines.
They say that because of this, it meant there was no real prospect of finding the men guilty, so they took the decision to offer NO evidence against them.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, said: “As the law which set up the role of PCC makes clear, operational issues in specific cases are solely in the remit of the Chief Constable, and Police and Crime Commissioners must not interfere. As PCC for Northumbria, I have been informed of the developments in this trial and I will ensure the Chief Constable keeps me in touch with what is happening as the police’s own inquiry progresses into what happened and why.
“If I am satisfied we will make the changes needed but if I am not satisfied with the inquiry and there are issues of community confidence which bring this into my remit, I will take my own action which may include ordering a further inquiry.
“Obviously this will all take a little time, however, I am clear Northumbria Police got this wrong and strongly praise the victims in this case who were brave and have been let down. That’s why I will ensure every fault is examined and as mentioned if further action is needed it will be taken.”