MORE than 1,700 passengers were spoken to by police as part of a campaign to raise awareness of Female Genital Mutilation.

Officers and Border Force staff worked with other agencies during the campaign at Stansted Airport last Wednesday and Thursday.

Those spoken to were arriving from or departing to airports that have connecting routes to countries where the practice is most common.

PC Fiona Clements, who led the operation, said: "FGM is a crime that often takes place behind closed doors and goes unreported.

"Working with experts in the field increases our ability to raise awareness, identify offenders and safeguard victims.

"It was good to see the number of people already aware of this barbaric practice has risen considerably compared to a few years ago when it was virtually unknown beyond the communities and cultures in which FGM is performed."

It was part of Operation Limelight which is often carried out during school holidays when girls are vulnerable to being taken abroad.

In the UK the practice, which is most common in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Officers were joined by the Border Force, Bernardo’s, Social Services, One Woman at a Time, African Women Northern Ireland and Public Protection Officers and Essex County Council.

Angie Marriot, a consultant at Diversity Employment Solutions, said: "It was a privilege to deliver training to the police, Border Force and partner agencies prior to the start of the operation.

"Educating people is vital to plug any gaps in knowledge amongst professionals managing FGM.

"This year's Operation Limelight has highlighted a number of concerns during stops and these have been managed by endorsing a successful multi agency partnership approach.

"I commend PC Fiona Clements, PC Darren Potts and Border Force for their sterling dedication and commitment to protecting African girls affected by FGM here in the UK through Operation Limelight."