A 38-year-old woman has been arrested at Heathrow Airport on suspicion of conspiracy to commit female genital mutilation as a result of a police operation mounted at airports across the country during the past week, Scotland Yard announced today. The arrest took place at 6.30pm on Thursday, after officers had swooped on dozens of passengers arriving in London on flights from Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
In a statement, a Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “The British national was held after arriving on a flight from Sierra Leone and taken to a west London police station where she remains in custody. A 13-year-old Sierra-Leonian girl travelling with the woman was taken into the care of social services.” They added: “A Nigerian female was also taken into the care of social services as a potential victim of trafficking. Her age has yet to be established. An investigation is ongoing by Border Force but is not related to FGM offences.”
The week-long crackdown against FGM, dubbed Operation Limelight, involved seven police forces, the Border Force and the National Crime Agency. Officers targeted flights to ‘countries of prevalence’ such as Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They had been briefed to look out for young girls returning from FGM ceremonies dressed like ‘mini divas’ in heels and make up. Passengers were warned that FGM is illegal in Britain and carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Some had their bags searched or were questioned in a bid to find victims of the practice.
There have been more than 60,000 victims of FGM in Britain, according to campaigners. Yet just 11 cases have been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service by the Metropolitan Police since 2010. “We're not getting an awful lot of referrals from the community, from medical professionals or from educational professionals. We need those because without that we can't start an investigation,” said Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe yesterday. Forcing girls to have medical examinations to check for evidence of FGM is “one of the things I think probably the Government is going to have to consider at some point,” he added.