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Friday, 07 September 2018

Intelligence on female genital mutilation is 'woeful', admits national police lead

Written by Aine Fox

Intelligence around female genital mutilation (FGM) has been branded "quite frankly woeful" by the lead officer who said the lack of a conviction in the UK is unacceptable.

Commander Ivan Balhatchet of the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) appealed to the public, support groups and those who work with children to pass information to police.

Mr Balhatchet (pictured), who is the national policing lead for honour-based abuse - covering such crimes as FGM and forced marriage, is hopeful a proclamation recently signed by UK and US authorities will lead to better intelligence around the crime.

The document's signatories include the NPCC, Metropolitan Police, Border Force, Crown Prosecution Service, British Transport Police, the FBI, and the US Department of Homeland Security.

Mr Balhatchet said: "This agreement is just the start, that will mean both the UK and the US will learn more about FGM, the routes taken by perpetrators and when and where it is committed."

The agreement will hopefully send a strong signal, he added, to potential perpetrators "that we will not tolerate such abuse in civilised society and we will do everything we can to protect children and girls and prosecute offenders".

He said it would be "naive" to think cutting was not happening in the UK but, due to a lack of information could not say to what extent.

"Our intelligence picture is quite frankly woeful," he said. "We don't know what's happening even though we know this child abuse and abuse against women and girls is taking place. It needs to improve and we've all got a responsibility to do that."

The issue is complex not least because FGM is often facilitated by family members who may believe it to be acceptable as part of their culture.

But Mr Balhatchet said no religion, culture or tradition "should be allowed to mitigate or make an excuse for such appalling crimes" - and called for more funding to help efforts to stop it.

Stressing the need for inter-agency work on the issue and for charities and the public to speak out, he added: "There's more information and intelligence out there that isn't coming forward to the police, certainly at the moment."

While he said preventing the crime happening at all and ensuring victims are taken care of is the priority for police, he admitted: "For the UK not having any successful prosecutions is unacceptable to me as the national lead."

UK police and Border Force officers have been working for years to raise awareness at airports, especially during the summer holidays when girls are most likely to be flown abroad to undergo FGM.

The Met's efforts, known as Operation Limelight, have been shadowed by US authorities and used at airports on the other side of the Atlantic since 2017.

The proclamation, which formalises joint UK and US efforts to act against the crime, was signed ahead of a week of action, raising awareness among those travelling at transport hubs in both countries.

Louis Rodi, of US Homeland Security Investigations, said: "We value our partnerships with UK law enforcement as well as with other US federal agencies, including the FBI and US Customs and Border Protection.

"This collaboration strengthens our resolve to carry out this important work to protect women and girls and investigate crimes against them."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) US Embassy / PA Wire.