Scotland Yard chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe warned today that the number of girls suffering female genital mutilation in Britain could be as high as the total taken abroad to be cut.

The Met Commissioner said he believed that "thousands" of girls from this country, some as young as three, were being subjected to the barbaric practice each year.

He said some were flown to countries such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Dubai to have parts of their genitals removed by foreign cutters — but information provided to the Met suggested that equally large numbers of girls were being mutilated in the UK.

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