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THOUGHT ON TRIAL: Court date set for charity volunteer arrested for silent prayer

  • Verdict anticipated: Isabel Vaughan-Spruce is scheduled to appear before Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on 16 February 2023 
  • Charity worker was seen in viral video being searched and arrested for praying silently near an abortion facility

BIRMINGHAM (10 February 2023) – Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, arrested and charged for silent prayer within the censorship zone of a Birmingham abortion facility, has been notified of an upcoming hearing on her case, scheduled for 16 February at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court.

Vaughan-Spruce originally was arrested on 6 December 2022. She was charged with “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users,” despite the fact that the abortion facility was closed during the time in which she was present and praying, and despite her clear declaration that she was not there to protest.  

The charity volunteer, who has supported women in crisis pregnancies for over twenty years, was charged for allegedly violating a Birmingham Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), which enforces a censorship zone around the abortion facility on Station Road, Birmingham. The full text of the PSPO, banning prayer, among other activities considered to constitute protest, is available here. The terms of the PSPO define protest as including prayer. 

The video of her search, interrogation, and arrest, in which Vaughan-Spruce stated that she “might be praying” inside her head, went viral. 

Vaughan-Spruce’s arrest preceded similar legal action in two other ongoing cases. Adam Smith-Connor was fined for breaching a Bournemouth censorship zone. Father Sean Gough, a Catholic priest from Birmingham, faces a legal battle for silent prayer in the same censorship zone as Vaughan-Spruce. ADF UK is supporting the defence of all three individuals. 

On 24 January, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) informed Vaughan-Spruce that her charges were dropped due to “insufficient evidence,” but also made clear that the charges “may well start again” in the near future subject to further evidential review. This is a warning prosecutors can issue when they expect that further evidence will be received. It is as a result of this legal ambiguity that Vaughan-Spruce has pursued clarity in court. Father Gough received the same communication from the CPS and has expressed the same intention, hoping to clear his name in court. 

“I am pleased to have a court date set, and to have an end in sight to this whole ordeal. It is still unfathomable that all of this has ensued from the simple act of praying in silence on the public streets of Britain. I hope for a “not guilty” verdict, not only clearing my name, but also clarifying that silent prayer is not a crime,” stated Vaughan-Spruce in response to the scheduled hearing. 

Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK, which is supporting the defense of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, Adam Connor-Smith, and Father Sean Gough has commented: 

“It is crucial that the Court issue a clear legal verdict in the case of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce. As our Parliament continues to debate the national rollout of censorship zones across England and Wales, it is imperative that we receive legal clarity given even the police and prosecution services can’t agree on what is and is not a crime. The reality is that every person should have their freedom to think and pray respected without running the risk of prosecution under vaguely worded and entirely disproportionate censorship zones”.

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