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Friday, 23 February 2018

Father acquitted in female genital mutilation case over 'insufficient' evidence

Written by Claire Hayhurst

The trial of a father accused of causing or allowing his six-year-old daughter to undergo female genital mutilation has collapsed after a judge ruled that the defendant had no case to answer.

Judge Julian Lambert directed a jury of seven women and five men to find the 29-year-old taxi driver, from inner-city Bristol, not guilty of child cruelty following a three-day trial at Bristol Crown Court.

He called the prosecution case against the Somali father "deeply troubling" and described the account of their key witness - an anti-FGM campaigner - as "inconsistent" and "influenced" by his views.

Medical evidence to ascertain whether the girl - who has always denied being harmed - had undergone FGM was "wholly inconclusive at its highest", the judge said.

Judge Lambert said his reasons for ruling in favour of an application by the defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, that he had no case to answer would be longer than usual due to the "widespread public concern in this case".

There has never been a successful prosecution for FGM, which has been illegal in the UK for more than 30 years.

The judge told the jury: "I have taken the view that there was not sufficient evidence to require any answer by the accused. The medical evidence was inconclusive."

Following the ruling, Avon and Somerset Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said they accepted the judge's decision and would not appeal.

An investigation was launched after Sami Ullah, who worked with the charity Integrate UK, made a report to police following a 10-minute taxi journey with the father in March 2016.

Mr Ullah, who was sat in the back of the taxi, reported that he had asked the defendant about FGM using the Somali word "sunna" and was told that the man's daughter had "the small one".

During the conversation, the defendant - who speaks broken English - also apparently described FGM as "very wrong" and said he had sent money to a female relative so she could escape undergoing the procedure.

"Although he was an honest witness he was influenced in that which he said because he is a campaigner against such things," the judge said.

"The danger of mistake was obvious from the surrounding circumstances."

The defendant was accused of telling Mr Ullah: "Do you know why we do it? So women don't feel sexy all the time," but the judge said he had not stated that this was his view and simply stated what others believed.

Following Mr Ullah's police report, the defendant's daughter, then aged six, was medically examined in May 2016 and a consultant paediatrician found what she described as a "lesion" measuring 2-3mm on her genitalia.

Judge Lambert said Dr Lindsey Mackintosh was using 15-year-old equipment to examine the girl, which produced photographs so blurry they were of "no value clinically or forensically".

"Dr Mackintosh was clear that she theorised about how the defect had been caused and considered all sorts of possibilities," he said.

"But at the end she said that she simply didn't know how this feature was caused."

The mark was not present when the girl was examined in August by Professor Sarah Creighton, who told the court that minor scratching and bruising in children usually last for about 30 days.

Prof Creighton could also not say how the "lesion" was caused to the girl's genitalia.

"Given the rate of healing of minor injuries, it seems to me that it was unlikely that feature was even present on March 9, more than two months before the date of the examination," the judge said.

"There was a further medical examination during which no abnormality was revealed. The medical evidence is therefore wholly inconclusive at its highest."

The judge highlighted that both of the girl's parents, and the girl herself, denied that she had ever been subjected to FGM.

"The evidence in this case is, however, deeply troubling," he said.

"I cannot, in good conscience, say: 'Here is a case in which a reasonable jury properly directed could convict this defendant.'"

Speaking after the case, Detective Chief Inspector Leanne Pook, who has been working on tackling FGM for the past six years, said she was "100%" confident that officers had gathered all the available evidence in the case.

"There wasn't anything that my team or I could have done more professionally or diligently than we have already done," she said.

She said there was "a whole host of complex answers" to why there had never been a successful prosecution for FGM despite there being evidence that girls in the UK were being subjected to it.

"This is only the second time that this [a prosecution] has been attempted," she said. "We will take some lessons from this and apply them next time."

A spokeswoman for the CPS said: "This was an unusual and unprecedented case for the prosecution.

"Where we feel there is sufficient evidence, and it is in the public interest to pursue, it is right that we put cases before the court so that a decision can be made by judge or jury."

The man, who did not comment as he left court, had denied one charge of causing or allowing cruelty to a child under the age of 16.

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