A rogue policeman has been given two life sentences for raping and sexually assaulting vulnerable women he met while on duty.
Pc Stephen Mitchell was yesterday warned he might never be freed from prison by a judge at Newcastle Crown Court who described him as a "ruthless sexual predator" who was a danger to women.
Mitchell, 42, formerly of Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, preyed on women he met at his base at Pilgrim Street police station in Newcastle.
The pervert, originally from Glasgow, raped and sexually abused heroin addicts, shoplifters and a disabled teenager by offering them help while in custody, then demanding sexual favours afterwards.
He told one of his victims that if she complained, "no-one would believe a junkie".
During a five-week trial in December, Mitchell claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy hatched by the criminal underworld, and labelled his accusers liars.
But after nearly a week of deliberation, a jury convicted him of two rapes, three indecent assaults and six counts of misconduct in a public office against seven female victims.
Sentencing, Mr Justice Wilkie said the Northumbria Police Pc had broken the bond of trust that existed between the public and the police.
Mitchell "ruthlessly exploited" his victims for his own pleasure and "degraded them repeatedly".
The judge said: "You succeeded so well you were able to treat them as sex objects over a period of months, and in some cases, years.
"So cowed and downtrodden by their experiences of life and by your influence were those seven women that they did not report what you had done until they were given the opportunity to do so by the police investigation into your activities years later."
He said Mitchell would serve at least seven-and-a-half years in jail before being considered for parole.
"Thereafter, you will only be released, if at all, if the parole board has concluded it is safe and in the public interest for you to be released on public licence.
"That may not be for many years, if for ever."
The former soldier, who has resigned from Northumbria Police, was nicknamed Pc Cucumber by investigating officers for his cold, callous demeanour.
Dressed in a dark suit and wearing a goatee beard, he remained stony-faced as he was sentenced, while in the court's public gallery, some of his victims wept as he was taken down.
Many had been too intimidated to face Mitchell during the trial, and were allowed to give evidence from behind a wooden screen.
Mitchell had a hold over one woman for three-and-a-half years, even trying to keep her on heroin after she had quit.
He had promised the addict, who is now in her 30s and had been arrested for theft, he would help her regain custody of her children in return for sex.
Her ordeal ended only when she went into hiding after he raped her in handcuffs at her home.
He paid another addict, 27, 20 for sex after arresting her on suspicion of shoplifting.
He told another, aged 21, "You see what you do to us", and groped her while she sat in a patrol car in Newcastle.
Mitchell claimed the women colluded against him after a rumour which he said had been made up by one claimant was picked up by others in a close-knit criminal fraternity.
He said: "These people will grab any opportunity they can."
Outside court, the prosecution service's Crown Advocate Paul Simpson paid tribute to the bravery of the victims. "They came and supported the prosecution, gave their evidence, and, in doing so, had to relive the darkest days of their lives."
Northumbria Police has apologised for Mitchell's "evil" actions, acknowledgign that serious failings had led to him being free to attack drug addicts and shoplifters after arresting them.
Following the sentence, Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Jim Campbell said: "I continue to offer my unreserved apologies to anyone who has been subject to criminal or inappropriate behaviour by Mitchell during his time as a serving officer with Northumbria Police.
"The public quite rightly expect that the officers and staff of Northumbria Police adhere to the highest possible standards of professional conduct and place immense trust in them.
"Mitchell, acting alone for his own abusive purposes, completely abused this trust and is now where he deserves to be - behind bars for a considerable period of time.
"Following his conviction he resigned from the force. We are also seeking authority to apply for a forfeiture of Mitchell's police pension.
"I want to again pay tribute to the victims in this case and thank them. Without their courage and support we could not have succeeded in bringing Mitchell to justice.
"I hope today's sentence will now allow them to move on with their lives."
The force faces paying millions of pounds compensation to Mitchell's victims.