FGM conviction: Mother of girl, 3, becomes first person found guilty of female genital mutilation in UK

Mother tried ‘witchcraft’ against investigators, while claiming the girl had fallen off a worktop

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 01 February 2019 16:08
Mother of girl, 3, becomes first person found guilty of female genital mutilation in UK

A woman whose three-year-old daughter was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) has become the first person in the UK to be convicted for the practice.

The mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had her daughter cut at their London home but then called 999 because the girl was bleeding heavily.

Police were alerted by hospital staff who did not believe the woman’s claim that the girl had fallen off a kitchen worktop onto a cupboard door, while trying to get a biscuit.

The 37-year-old mother, from Uganda, maintained her story throughout an Old Bailey trial but was convicted of FGM on Friday. She wept in the dock as the jury read the verdict.

The girl’s father, a 43-year-old Ghanaian man, was was cleared of all charges after less than a day of deliberations.

The mother will be sentenced at the Old Bailey on 8 March, when she faces up to 14 years in prison.

It is the first time anyone has been convicted of FGM offences since the practice was criminalised in the UK in 1985, with laws being expanded in 2003 and 2015.

But police officers were unable to confirm whether the mother had carried out the procedure herself, or had paid a “cutter” who remains at large.

In the third interview with police, the victim said there was a “lady with silver hair” who cut her at home. She said her mum and dad called the woman “a witch”.

DCI Ian Baker told journalists there was not a “definitive conclusion” on who performed the FGM, adding: “Someone cut that child … All the suspects we had evidence against were in that court.”

Blood-stained clothing and towels were found in the family’s washing machine, but no blade was recovered from the home.

Investigators found no traces of blood on the cupboard door that the mother claimed caused her daughter’s injury, or on the kitchen floor.

Prosecutors told the Old Bailey the mutilation took place on 28 August 2017, and that the victim had to undergo emergency surgery.

Police were alerted the following day, after a surgeon at Whipps Cross Hospital found evidence of deliberate excisions using a scalpel, and the girl later said she had been held down and cut.

She has since made a “good recovery” and has been placed in the care of a new family, officials said.

As the investigation continued, the court heard the mother attempted to cast spells against prosecutors and police officers.

A search in November 2017 found messages embedded inside two cows’ tongues bound in wire and embedded with screws and a knife, and 40 limes in a freezer.

One of the notes left in a lime by the girl’s mother as an attempted spell

Messages directed at the then director of public prosecutions, police officers and social workers told them to “shut up”, “never talk s*** about me” and threatened to “freeze your mouths”

Prosecutor Caroline Carberry QC added: “There was a jar with a picture of a social worker in pepper found hidden behind the toilet in the bathroom. Another spell was hidden under the bed.”

The woman had also written out psalms on forgiveness from the Bible and prayers to Christian saints, asking not to go to jail.

Giving evidence in court, the mother maintained her account of an accidental injury and told jurors: “It’s a big accusation. Someone who would cut a child’s private parts, they’re not human. I’m not like that.”

She said she resorted to spells because “cutting your child, that’s not something for any person. So, as a mother, I knew I did not do it”.

The father denied having an interest in “voodoo” or “witchcraft” and claimed he was outside when his daughter was hurt.

Lynette Woodrow, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said the mother had “failed” in her attempts to stop the investigation, and to coach her daughter to lie to the police.

“We can only imagine how much pain this vulnerable young girl suffered and how terrified she was – a three-year-old has no power to resist or fight back,” she added.

“We will not hesitate to prosecute those who commit this sickening offence.”

Operation Limelight: The FGM unit operating in Heathrow Airport to intercept families taking their children to be mutiliated

Two previous prosecutions under FGM laws have previously failed, along with a third prosecution for child neglect that included FGM.

Police have obtained around 300 protection orders for girls at risk of the practice in the past three years.

More than 18,000 FGM survivors have been recorded by the NHS since 2015, but police believe the vast majority of cases identified by health workers are historic and happened outside the UK.

The Metropolitan Police lead on FGM, Insp Allen Davis, said police were working with other authorities and charities to prevent the practice happening in Britain and abroad.

“FGM is still happening across London and the UK, behind a cloak of secrecy,” he warned. “The young victims often have no way to speak out or may not even know what is happening to them.

“We really need information from people in communities who know FGM is happening, which young people are at risk, and who is doing the cutting.”

The officer said that girls risked being ostracised for speaking out, and are often reluctant to report their mothers and loved ones to police.

Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre, said the practice has a “lifelong impact on survivors both physically and psychologically”.

“I hope today’s verdict serves as a warning to those considering having FGM carried out on their daughter or other family member or taking her abroad to do so,” he added.

Home secretary Sajid Javid called FGM a “sickening form of child abuse” and added: “We will not tolerate FGM and not rest until perpetrators of this horrific crime are brought to justice.”

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