Questions raised about prominent FGM campaigner
A BBC Newsnight investigation has revealed a series of concerns about some aspects of the work of a celebrated FGM campaigner.
Comfort Momoh established one of the UK’s first FGM clinics and has recently retired as a midwife from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust in London.
She has also received an MBE for her work in women’s health.
But senior specialists have raised concerns about her credibility when it comes to examining children for FGM.
There are also suggestions Ms Momoh may be exaggerating her professional qualifications. She has repeatedly described herself as “Dr Momoh” – including on the website of Guys and St Thomas’s hospital, but she is not a qualified medical doctor – instead, she has an honorary doctorate from Middlesex University.
A university spokesperson confirmed to Newsnight that this does not enable her to use the title “doctor”.
Comfort Momoh has not responded to the BBC’s request for comment.
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When Newsnight approached the Nursing and Midwifery Council, who regulate midwives, for comment on their findings, they told the programme that a referral had been made about Comfort Momoh on 8 August which they are currently investigating.
The NMC said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on any specific details as the case is ongoing. It has not been confirmed whether the concerns within the referral are the same as those raised in Newsnight’s reporting.
Female genital mutilation is a term given to all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitals or other injury to female genital organs where there are no medical reason.
It is usually carried out on girls under the age of 15, with most FGM done under the age of five, according to Unicef.
Newsnight understands that Comfort Momoh has examined children for FGM on at least five occasions, despite not having relevant qualifications.
Although Comfort Momoh is an expert in adult cases of FGM, serious questions have been raised about her competence to assess children – whose anatomy is different to that of adults.
In 2012, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health produced guidance with the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine, for the examination of child abuse victims, saying this should only be performed by a doctor with specialist training in children – which Ms Momoh is not understood to have.
In a court case involving a child who was alleged to have had FGM in Leeds in 2014 in which Comfort Momoh did give evidence, the judge involved said she merited “harsh criticism” and had “difficulty in providing answers even about the even the simplest factual question”.
She originally said – after examination – that the right labia appeared to be missing in one of the girls and said the child had been subjected to “some form of FGM”.
But in oral evidence in court, Comfort Momoh changed her findings.
Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, described her report as “a remarkably shoddy piece of work” and “worse than useless”. He said she was “not a reliable witness”.
Judge Munby concluded, there was not enough evidence to suggest the child had had FGM, after the examination was reviewed by an expert.
Comfort Momoh was one of two key expert witnesses in another high-profile case in 2015 – the first of its kind – in which a doctor was taken to court in the UK for allegedly carrying out FGM.
She was dropped as a witness just before the trial. It is unclear why. A jury acquitted the accused after less than half an hour of deliberations.
Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation – where Comfort Momoh has worked as a midwife for 20 years – said she had recently retired.
They said this had been planned for some time, and was “not linked to issues raised by Newsnight”.
A government spokesperson said: “Female genital mutilation is a horrific act of abuse which this government is working to tackle.”
They added: “We have also published comprehensive standards of what we expect in delivering FGM care in children under the age of 18.
“In this we make clear that those examining children are doctors, and that they need paediatric competencies and appropriate experience.”