The Crown Prosecution Service has been criticised for staging a misguided female gentital mutilation (FGM) “show trial” – after a young doctor was cleared by a jury in the first such case brought before the UK courts.
Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, whose medical career was devastated by a 1.5cm stitch he performed on the bleeding mother of a newborn baby, was acquitted by jurors in less than 30 minutes. The two-week trial heard he was made a scapegoat for failures at London’s Whittington hospital.
It emerged that chances were missed to alert the doctor, before the mother went into labour, that the 27-year-old had undergone FGM in Somalia when aged six. The registrar only discovered this as he performed emergency surgery to save the life of her child. Dr Dharmasena, 32, made a cut to help the woman give birth and was later charged with the offence after effectively “repairing” the FGM because she was oozing blood, jurors heard.
In the witness box, Dr Dharmasena, supported by colleagues in the public gallery, said he carried out the work in the best interests of his patients. Another man, Hasan Mohamed, 41, was cleared of abetting the offence.
In a statement after the verdicts, Dr Dharmasena said: “I am extremely relieved with the court’s verdict and I am grateful to the jury for their careful consideration.
“I have always maintained that FGM is an abhorrent practice that has no medical justification”.
The Whittington Hospital, in north London, – which reported the doctor to the police – said today that it endeavoured “to support our clinical staff who often face difficult, challenging and emergency situations and strive to do their very best.”
The two men were charged with FGM four days before MPs were due to question the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, over the failure to prosecute anyone with the crime, despite it being an offence since 1985.
The MPs later concluded that authorities needed to act immediately over this “ongoing national scandal”. Senior police said at the time that the charges were “great news” and sent out a “strong message” that the “people who carry it out will be caught and charged”.
But the decision to charge Dr Dharmasena was criticised after it emerged that the mother did not support the prosecution and declined to give a statement after she was taken to a police station and fingerprinted.
It is the only case of a charge of FGM in Britain. The CPS ruled there should be no prosecution in 11 other cases.
Mr Mohamed’s lawyer, Ali Hussain, said: “My client strongly believes this case was nothing more than a show trial – an effort by the CPS to regain some confidence after failing to bring a prosecution despite FGM laws being in place since 1985.”
The hospital said that it had changed its practices as a result of the case. It has emerged that a midwife at the hospital had learned that the mother had undergone FGM during an appointment when she was just nine weeks’ pregnant but failed pass that on.
Keith Vaz MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “This prosecution appears to have been borne in haste, 72 hours before the DPP appeared before the committee ... we shall seek an explanation from Alison Saunders as to what she thinks went wrong and what she is doing to ensure successful prosecutions and convictions in the future.”
In a statement, Ms Saunders said: “It was right that we put this case before the court ... the CPS does not shy away from difficult cases, and where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest we will prosecute.”Reuse content