A Bristol Somali community group has publicly condemned the practice of female genital mutilation – but has raised fears about the “abuse and harassment” of Somalis living in Bristol.
The Bristol Somali Forum has released a statement after a high-profile FGM case involving a dad living in the city was thrown out following a three-day trial.
Anti-FGM campaigner Sami Ullah claimed a cab driver from Bristol told him he had allowed his daughter to undergo a procedure but the “deeply troubling” case was thrown out by a judge, bringing to an end an attempt to secure the UK’s first ever FGM conviction.
The Somali Forum says it fears innocent parents with young daughters could be targeted during the nationwide campaign to end FGM.
A statement from the group, released on Monday February 26, said: “We, the Somali community in Bristol, do neither condone nor support 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 harassment faced by Somali parents with young daughters in the city.
“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 with evidence.”
On Thursday February 22 Judge Julian Lambert directed a Bristol Crown Court jury to acquit the father, who cannot be named to ensure the child’s anonymity, after finding a lack of evidence an offence had taken place, meaning there was no case to answer.
The 29-year-old dad, who lives in an inner city area of Bristol, faced a charge of assaulting, ill-treating or neglecting a child or young person, to cause unnecessary suffering or injury.
The case related to an allegation that an FGM procedure was carried out on his daughter, due to an injury found on her when she was aged six.
Bristol Somali Forum has called for an inquiry into the anti-FGM campaign, calling it “systematic abuse.”
The group’s statement added: “The human rights of many Somali young girls has in the city have been breached.”
Questions have been asked of the senior police officer in the landmark case.
DCI Leanne Pook, of Avon and Somerset Police, led the investigation after campaigner Sami Ullah claimed a cab driver from Bristol had allowed his daughter to undergo a form of FGM.
National newspaper The Mail on Sunday has since revealed that DCI Pook is a trustee of the anti-FGM charity where Mr Ullah worked and knew him personally.
Tory Bridgwater MP Ian Liddell-Grainger claimed this represented a “conflict of interest”, although Avon and Somerset police say her role with the charity was “compatible with her position as a police officer” and no complaints relating to the case have been made.
Avon and Somerset police Deputy Chief Constable Sarah Crew said: “Together, the police, health, children’s services and the community themselves all have a responsibility to safeguard our children and young people. This is a responsibility that none of us should shoulder alone. We live in a world where we police by consent and, when we are given information we have a duty to follow it up, and through to trial and conviction should CPS believe there is enough evidence to meet their charging threshold.
“We know that FGM is prevalent and accepted in a number of countries around the world. Young people in Bristol have told us that this is happening and we must do everything in our power, within the law, to protect them.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “Policing is too big a job for the police alone, so it’s important that we continue to work closely with our partners to ensure local people are safe and feel safe. As a charity, Integrate UK do a phenomenal amount of work in schools, supporting and guiding young people through a myriad of complex issues they face in modern society.
“Working together we all have a responsibility to safeguard our young people and there is always more work that can be done to raise awareness and prevent crimes from happening in the first place. We live in a world where we police by consent and when the police are given information or evidence they have a duty to follow up on that information, taking it seriously and investigating it further.
“One day there will be a prosecution in this country because FGM is happening and together we must tackle this form of child abuse.”