Articles on Shifting Sands
The (evangelising) FGM Detectives
The FGM Detectives, a Channel 4 TV documentary broadcast last night (27 Feb 2017), was illuminating and timely. The TV reporter, Cathy Newman, had filmed over two years to investigate FGM. The blurb reminded us that despite being banned, ‘FGM is still practised in some communities in the UK, where 20,000 girls are thought to be at risk each year.’
But the successful prosecution she no doubt hoped to celebrate in the well-timed programme wasn’t to be. She reminds us in a Huffington Post piece that the Bristol trial, where a father accused of an FGM-related child cruelty offence, had collapsed last week.
That it went to court at all should be the surprise considering the lack of factual and medial evidence there was in support of the case. Then there was the personal relationship between the main witness and the investigating police officer, which to any objective eye, represented a conflict of interest. But was only casually mentioned in the programme.
The Police Officer, Leanne Pook, is a trustee of the charity, Integrate UK and like many anti-FGM campaigners is passionate, almost to the point of being evangelical, about the issue. The main witness is an employee of the charity and an equally passionate anti-FGM campaigner. They are friends. Yet she was allowed to take his witness statement.
That this conflict of interest was considered acceptable to the Avon & Somerset Police, the Charity and the CPS, is more than surprising. All are no doubt now (privately) embarrassed, despite the brave (public) faces and statements issued afterwards. They will hopefully be asked some tough questions in the enquiries that must follow.
This is the second trial that the CPS had sanctioned for a criminal investigation and the second not to get the desperately sought after first conviction for ‘FGM’ since being made illegal in Britain in 1983.
The documentary focusses primarily on Leanne Pook, a Detective Chief Inspector, and her awakening to the problem ‘FGM’ is believed to represent in Britain. Reported with admiration is her avowed lifetime commitment to the anti-FGM cause, her work with the local community over the past six years and her efforts to keep them onside. As well as her stoic response to the trial’s collapse, one which would’ve made legal history had it been successful.
The DCI says her relationships with the community are very important to her, and she hopes they’ll be sustained notwithstanding the two year investigations in the lead up to the trial and its outcome. But she must be naive to think these relationships will not have been damaged. The community is very angry about the damage caused to the family who were subject to intense scrutiny during the investigation. As well as by the ‘systematic abuse and the harassment faced by Somali parents with young daughters in the city’ generally.
The Bristol Somali Community statement, reproduced below, details this and why. It concludes by asking community leaders and organisations to inform schools and service providers not to allow Integrate UK and their representatives to work with or approach Somali children and their parents and families.”
But anti-FGM campaigners have not lost hope. Soon a London man will face trial, accused of inflicting FGM and they are no doubt now hoping for a ‘third time lucky’ verdict.
It never seems to cross their minds to consider ‘FGM’ may not be happening here. That people’s attitude to the practice change after migration. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that they abandon the practice.
The current justification for not finding any cases is that families are changing their traditional practices and are having their daughters undergo a ‘Type 4’ instead (pricking, piercing, nicking the clitoris/clitoral hood), thus making detection harder. DCI Poke’s explanation and demonstration to colleagues in the film was memorable!
The cases being reported by the NHS, the only vaguely accurate data that exists, are predominantly historic and occurred before the girls/women came to the UK. The few new cases being reported are genital piercings, which by law are viewed as Type 4 FGM and therefore illegal. But the obsession with protecting children from ‘child abuse’ which all types of FGM including Type 4, are considered to represent, drives their evangelical approach. And because, like the Avon and Somerset police, they just ‘know these harmful procedures are happening in this country right now.’
A number of statements were published after the Feb 22nd trial.
This from Bristol Somali Forum – ‘The Failed FGM Trial’ on Twitter
26 February 2018
“We, the Somali community in Bristol, neither condone nor support Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) because it is against the law and our Islamic religion. We completely support the campaign to eradicate FGM, and we also agree anyone who breaks the law by practicing this barbaric custom should be prosecuted.
The collapsed FGM trial has highlighted the systematic abuse and the harassment faced by Somali parents with young daughters in the city. The steps taken by the witness to get information from the defendant, a Somali taxi driver, understandably is a component of the institutionalised harassment project which has terrorised many families in Bristol since the FGM campaign has started. This raises a serious concern, however.
We now know that the father was found not guilty because the evidence was riddled with “inconsistencies”; evidence which was influenced by Integrate UK’s working culture and their commitment to get a conviction by any means. A case in point is the failure to manage conflict of interests – as the Sunday Mail revealed yesterday (25 February 2018) – and the close working relationship that developed between Integrate UK and Avon and Somerset Police, particularly the FGM lead officer, was based on nothing but systematic marginalisation and locking up people from the target communities.
More importantly, it seems the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have been very excited about the race to get a first conviction, which has shamefully resulted wasting much needed public money to an ill-advised case. As tax payers, we demand answers from Avon and Somerset Police and the CPS – and the Government. The law was designed to protect children, and the public, but regarding the campaign to eradicate FGM, the law and the safeguarding procedures have been used otherwise.
The targeted aggressive approach of the professional FGM campaigners has caused stress to many Somali families with young children in Bristol. We are very concerned about the number of young girls being examined without evidence. In fact, the human rights of many young Somali girls in the city has been breached by safeguarding officers; the campaign aimed to eradicate FGM is not currently serving the interest of the children.
We, therefore, urge relevant authorities to launch a public inquiry to understand the drivers of the systematic abuse within the FGM campaign, the way the NHS collects and records FGM cases, and how the welfare of the children and their families can be strengthened. We also sincerely request members of the Somali community to stay calm and be patient in this painful time.
Community leaders and organisations should inform schools and service providers not to allow Integrate UK and their representatives to work with or approach Somali children and their parents and families, meanwhile.”
Avon and Somerset Constabulary published this statement.
A 29-year-old man from Bristol charged with an FGM-related child cruelty offence has been acquitted today following a ruling by the trial judge at Bristol Crown Court.
DCI Leanne Pook, our force lead for FGM and lead officer for this case, said after the ruling: “Our priority from the outset of this investigation has been to safeguard any vulnerable children and protect them from harm.
“We carried out a challenging two-year investigation, supported by professionals from a range of partner agencies, which resulted in evidence being passed to the Crown Prosecution Service and a charge being authorised for a child cruelty offence.
“We accept the findings of the court and will continue, as always, to work closely with our communities to protect those at risk of FGM, and our wider network of partner agencies and inspiring charities to raise awareness of and develop our responses to this important issue.
“FGM remains a deeply entrenched practice and we know these harmful procedures are happening in this country right now. I’d like to reassure the public that we’ll put as much energy, dedication and care into investigating FGM as we would do in any inquiry where a child is at risk of harm.
“We will continue to thoroughly investigate all potential offences of FGM. Alongside this we will maintain our focus on preventing FGM from taking place in the first place, working with our partners and communities and using all the legislative and safeguarding powers at our disposal.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens: “The police take reports of FGM seriously as they would any form of abuse against a child.
“It’s important that the police continue to work with partner organisations and charities and we all continue to raise awareness of this unacceptable practice. I am very proud of the fantastic work in Bristol as part of the ‘Bristol Model’ to tackle FGM and supportive of the ambition to end FGM in a generation by working with young people.
“As the national Police and Crime Commissioner representative for honour-based abuse, forced marriage and FGM, I am committed to protecting the most vulnerable from harm. Working with the police, partners, and affected communities to challenge the practice of FGM and be very clear, that it is child abuse and against the law.”
Integrate UK‘s statement is not reproducible here but can be viewed on their website.
Their new obsession with Type 4 FGM should keep them busy for the foreseeable future as they try to convince us that it is abuse, no matter what.
About the Author - Bríd Hehir
Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a (volunteer) nurse and midwife in Africa, in Ethiopia and Botswana, where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.