A mother has been jailed for 11 years after becoming the first person in Britain to be convicted of female genital mutilation (FGM) in a landmark case.
The 37-year-old woman was found guilty of cutting her three-year-old daughter.
A further two years were added to her sentence for possessing indecent images and extreme pornography.
Campaigners welcomed the ruling, describing it as a “watershed moment” that sent a strong message the crime would not be tolerated.
Speaking at the Old Bailey in London, Justice Philippa Whipple said it was not known why the woman inflicted FGM on her child, contrary to her culture, although witchcraft was a possibility.
Whipple described what the woman did as a form of child abuse. “It’s a barbaric practice and a serious crime. It’s an offence which targets women, particularly inflicted when they are young and vulnerable,” she said.
On the psychological effect on the victim, she told the defendant: “This is a significant and lifelong burden for her to carry. You betrayed her trust in you as her protector.”
Caroline Carberry QC, prosecuting, told the court the victim had recovered well but she was likely to experience reduced sexual sensation in the future and long-term psychological damage.
The Ugandan woman, 37, and her Ghanaian partner, 43, both from Walthamstow, east London, were accused of cutting their daughter over the 2017 summer bank holiday. Her partner was cleared of involvement following a trial.
Police searched the woman’s home while the pair were on bail, finding evidence of witchcraft, including spells written inside frozen limes and two cow’s tongues with screws embedded in them, with the apparent aim of keeping police, social workers and lawyers quiet.
Carberry said: “Two cow tongues, they were bound in wire with nails and a small blunt knife also embedded in them, 40 limes were found and other fruit, which when opened contained pieces of paper with names on them.
“The names embedded included both police officers involved in the investigation of the case, the social worker, her own son and the then director of public prosecutions.”
She said a jar with a picture of a social worker was found hidden behind the toilet and another spell was hidden under the bed.
Giving evidence, the mother denied cutting her daughter, saying: “It’s a big accusation. Someone who would cut a child’s private parts, they’re not human. I’m not like that.”
The defendants claimed the child had been reaching for a biscuit when she fell and cut herself on the edge of a kitchen cupboard. However, the victim later told specially – trained officers she had been cut by a “witch”.
A jury at the Old Bailey found the mother guilty of FGM in February.
Mitigating, Natasha Wong QC said the child had not been subject to an FGM protection order, adding the situation could have been worse if she had not been taken to hospital.
During the sentencing, the mother also admitted possessing indecent pictures of a child, publishing videos of sexual activity with a dog and a snake and possessing extreme pornographic images.
Her former partner pleaded guilty to two charges of possessing of an indecent image of a child and two charges of possessing extreme images showing people having sex with a horse and snake.
Whipple sentenced him to 11 months in prison, although he has already served his time on remand. The court heard it would be up to the Home Office to decide whether to allow him to continue living in Britain.
John Cameron, the head of helplines at the NSPCC, said: “This landmark case sends a very clear message that FGM will not be tolerated in this country under any circumstances.”
“If we want to protect girls from this dangerous and potentially life-changing practice we need to talk about FGM, encourage people to seek help and advice and report any concerns if they believe a child has been cut or is about to be.”
Leethen Bartholomew, the head of the National FGM Centre, which is run as a partnership between Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, said: “The first person to be convicted and sentenced for FGM is truly a watershed moment and sends a strong message to society that this crime will not be tolerated and offenders will be held accountable.”
The crime carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. There have been three other trials involving FGM, all of which ended in acquittals.
Research by City University estimated 137,000 women and girls are living with FGM in England and Wales.