A judge at Bristol crown court ordered that the 29-year-old father be found not guilty of child cruelty and criticised aspects of the case against the man.
Outside court, police, who investigated the case for two years, said they fully accepted the decision but remained certain FGM was taking place in the UK and would continue to work to tackle the problem.
There was anger from friends and family of the father, who believed it was wrong to prosecute him, and outside court there was a minor scuffle between some of his supporters and anti-FGM campaigners.
The investigation was launched after a worker for the Bristol-based charity Integrate UK claimed the man, a private hire driver from the city, had told him during a short taxi ride that his daughter had undergone a “small” procedure.
Police were called and – more than two months later – the girl was examined by the designated doctor for safeguarding in Bristol.
The girl’s family insisted she had not undergone FGM but the doctor, Lindsey Mackintosh, reported a small lesion.
Mackintosh told the jury: “I was concerned that this may represent a form of FGM.” When the girl was examined nine weeks later by a consultant gynaecologist, nothing could be seen.
At the end of the prosecution case, Judge Julian Lambert agreed with the defence team that the man had no case to answer.
He described elements of the case against the father, who is of Somali origin, as “deeply troubling” and called the account of the key witness “inconsistent”. The jury was ordered to return a not guilty verdict.
There have been no successful FGM convictions in the UK. Afterwards, DCI Leanne Pook, Avon and Somerset police’s force lead for FGM, said she fully accepted the court’s findings.
Addressing the judge’s concerns, she said the time lapses were unavoidable. “We weren’t dawdling. There’s a whole host of complexities connected with this issue,” she said. “That’s not to say we shouldn’t keep trying. We’ll take some lessons from this and we’ll apply them next time.
“FGM remains a deeply entrenched practice and we know these harmful procedures are happening in this country right now. I will do my utmost not only to bring perpetrators to justice but to stop this from happening in the first place and give a safer future for younger girls affected by this issue.”
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) described the prosecution as “unusual and unprecedented”. A spokesperson said: “Where we feel there is sufficient evidence, and it is in the public interest to pursue, it is right that we put cases before the court so that a decision can be made by judge or jury.”
Lisa Zimmermann, the director of Integrate UK, said it was shameful that there had not been a successful FGM prosecution in the UK.
She said the case had been brought under child cruelty rather than specific FGM legislation, adding: “The CPS and safeguarding services must protect young girls by taking urgent and serious action to ensure that perpetrators feel the full force of the law. Where there is evidence of genital mutilation, the case must be prosecuted under the FGM act.”
The father left court without comment. The website Bristol Somali Media, a bilingual community site, tweeted that FGM was wrong – but activists and charities were wasting public money and destroying the lives of innocent families.