November 17, 2014
Fight against FGM suffers a blow as more cases are dropped without chargesby Martin Bentham
Hopes of a landmark first British prosecution for the female genital mutilation of a child were dealt a blow today, after the number of suspected “cutting” cases over which no charges will be brought rose to double figures.
The Crown Prosecution Service said it had decided that “no further action” could be taken in 10 out of 12 cases referred to it by police, and only two files were still being considered for possible criminal charges.
It said that reasons for vetoing prosecution included the reluctance of one victim to testify against a 35-year-old suspect from London. A gap in the 1985 law banning FGM in England and Wales made it impossible to prosecute a Somali woman aged 40 who allegedly subjected her daughter to mutilation during a holiday in her homeland.
Three other women, two of whom were arrested at Heathrow, escaped charges because items they possessed — which police believed were going to be used for cutting — could also be used for other “traditional practices” that were lawful.
A 38-year-old London man who threatened to inflict FGM has been told he will not be charged because police were unable to show that he intended to put his words into action.
News that so many investigations have failed to produce prosecutions will disappoint campaigners, and reinforce concerns that existing measures to combat FGM are inadequate. They will also raise fears about the ability of the Metropolitan police — whose detectives are facing a growing burden from historical child sex abuse cases — to overcome the difficulty of obtaining proof to bring offenders to justice.
Ministers have already responded to the lack of charges by announcing a raft of legal reforms, including anonymity for victims and a new duty on parents to prevent mutilation. These are currently passing through Parliament as part of the Serious Crime Bill.
Today the Crown Prosecution Service and Scotland Yard vowed to do all in their power to charge offenders.
A CPS spokeswoman said FGM had “devastating consequences for girls and women” and it welcomed the government’s action to strengthen the law, in response to recommendations from Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders. “The proposed changes [will mean] there will be a positive duty on parents or carers to prevent their child from being mutilated, and a positive duty on medical and healthcare professionals to report FGM and people at risk from it,” the spokeswoman said.
“The changes will extend our powers to prosecute for actions committed overseas; enable us to work with police to build stronger cases; and give those that inflict such cruelty on women and girls fewer places to hide.”
A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said the Met “remains absolutely resolute in its efforts to detect and prevent FGM”, and was working with heath, education and other professionals to ensure that girls at risk and victims were identified.
She added: “FGM is a hidden crime. It is a taboo subject within families and practising communities, making it very difficult for police to detect. We are now focusing on trying to secure the information about those committing the offences so there is less of a reliance on the victim giving evidence — often against their loved ones.”
Two people, doctor Dhanuson Dharmasena, 32, and another man who cannot be named, have been charged with FGM offences over the alleged mutilation of a woman who had just given birth at The Whittington Hospital in Archway. Both deny the allegations and are due to stand trial in January at Southwark Crown Court.
Anyone who has been subjected to FGM or who is at risk should contact the police on 999 or Project Azure officers on 0207 161 2888. They can also call the NSPCC FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550.