Police have launched a special operation in the run up to Christmas to tackle the problem of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Officers will be at Gatwick to raise awareness amongst passengers travelling to countries where there is a history of FGM.

It is believed that victims are taken back to their country of origin, often during the school holidays, so that the procedure can be carried out on them. Their wounds are then allowed to heal before they are taken home to the UK.

In most cases victims have no idea that they are being taken abroad so that the painful, disfiguring operation can be done.

FGM is illegal in the UK and under the FGM Act 2003 it is also illegal for girls who have permanent residency in the UK to be taken overseas to have FGM anywhere in the world. Those who are involved or facilitate this process are guilty of offences that carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Detective Inspector Andy Richardson said: "The operation is aimed at gathering intelligence about FGM and importantly trying to identify girls who could be about to undergo this illegal act so we can prevent it.

"It is extremely difficult to detect and investigate FGM because it is a taboo subject that families and communities involved in the practice keep to themselves. There is intelligence that girls in the UK have been the victims of FGM but we need help from members of the community to prevent it remaining a hidden crime.”

If you or someone you know is in immediate risk of harm call 999.

If you are an adult who has been a victim of FGM please call police on 101.

Alternatively call NSPCC on 0800 0283550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk.