FGM trial: First ever person convicted of practice in UK jailed for 13 years after mutilating 3-year-old daughter

Mother who was also guilty of distributing indecent image of a child told that what she did was ‘barbaric, sickening, child abuse’

Adam Lusher
Old Bailey
,Adam Forrest
Friday 08 March 2019 17:10 GMT
FGM sentencing: Statement given after Ugandan woman jailed for 13 years in first ever UK conviction

The first ever person convicted for female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK has been given an 11-year jail sentence.

The mother from Uganda, who was found guilty of cutting her three-year-old daughter, was also handed a further two years other offences – including distributing an indecent image of a child.

The judge, Mrs Justice Whipple, described the FGM as a “barbaric” crime. “Let’s be clear,” she added, “FGM is a form of child abuse.”

Sentencing the woman, whose daughter is now in foster care, the judge told her there had been “sickening” aggravating factors: “As her mother, you betrayed her trust in you. Whatever the physical consequences, the psychological effects are likely to remain long after the physical scars have healed.”

Turning to the possible witchcraft aspects of the case, the judge said: “We do not know why you did this. You do not come from a culture where FGM is practised: there were suggestions during your trial that your crime was connected with witchcraft or that you [wanted] to cleanse her in some way.

“These suggestions derived from witchcraft objects found at your home and messages found on your phone – but they are no more than possibilities.”

The girl’s mother was found guilty of FGM offences in February – the first time anyone has been convicted of the crime since the practice was first criminalised in the UK by the Female Circumcision Act 1985, which was replaced by the stronger Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2003.

Prosecutors told the Old Bailey the mutilation took place at the family’s London home 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.

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

Officers 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 girl was subjected to “deliberate cutting with a sharp instrument” at her mother’s home, the court was told.

The court heard that the victim’s labia were removed. Caroline Carberry QC, prosecuting, said: “The procedure would have been extremely painful ... The long-term psychological damage to her cannot be underestimated.”

The offence of FGM carries a maximum of 14 years in jail, and Ms Carberry told the judge, Ms Justice Whipple, that the prosecution thought the appropriate “starting point” in this case should be “in the region of” ten years’ imprisonment.

Natasha Wong QC, defending, told the court: “Hopefully there was an anaesthetic, but we don't know. I do not seek to belittle the suffering in any way, but there are other types of FGM that cause greater disfigurement and greater complications in the long term.”

The defendant told authorities her daughter had been reaching for a biscuit when she fell and cut herself. But the victim later confided in specially trained officers that she had been cut by a “witch”. Her older brother told police he saw his sister crying and “blood dripping on the floor”.

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

Police searched the mother’s home and found evidence of witchcraft.

The prosecutor said: “Two cow tongues, they were bound in wire with nails and a small blunt knife also embedded in them, 40 limes were found and other fruit which when opened contained pieces of paper with names on them.

“The names embedded included both police officers involved in the investigation of the case, the social worker, her own son and the then director of public prosecutions.

“These people were to ‘shut up’ and ‘freeze their mouths’. 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.”

Giving evidence, the mother denied cutting her daughter, saying: “It’s a big accusation. Someone who would cut a child’s private parts, they’re not human. I’m not like that.”

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

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

The Ghanaian man was last month cleared by the jury of two FGM-related charges.

But on Friday he pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of an indecent photograph of a child and two counts of possession of an extreme pornographic image showing people having sex with a horse and snake.

He was sentenced to a total of 11 months in prison.

The girl’s mother also pleaded guilty to one count of distributing an indecent image of a child, two counts of publishing an indecent article and three counts of possession of an extreme pornographic image.

She was previously convicted in January 2014 of benefit fraud by making a false statement and failing to notify of a change in circumstances.

Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre, which is run as a partnership between Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, said: “The first person to be convicted and sentenced for FGM is truly a watershed moment and sends a strong message to society that this crime will not be tolerated and offenders will be held accountable.

“It has caused shockwaves in communities which practise FGM and we hope that this prison term will act as a deterrent, while encouraging other survivors to come forward to seek support.

“The effects of female genital mutilation have a lifelong impact on survivors both physically and psychologically, so it is vital support is in place for the child for as long as she needs it.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for FGM, Commander Ivan Balhatchet, added: “Today’s sentencing will act as a deterrent and a warning that our society will not accept this child abuse, but prosecutions alone will not solve this problem.

“We are working with the health, education and social care services to help people be alert to signs of FGM and to speak out and share information with us. We will treat each individual case sensitively and confidentially.”

Senior CPS official Lynette Woodrow said outside court: FGM is an extremely serious form of child abuse and today’s sentence underlines that.

“We hope this conviction encourages those who have experienced FGM, or have suspicions about FGM offences, to come forward knowing that we will treat everyone with sensitivity and respect.

“I am very proud of my team of prosecutors who have worked so hard with police and counsel to successfully prosecute this crime.”

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