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NEW FOOTAGE shows officers “thought-policing” in Birmingham; government consultation on censorial “buffer zones” ends midnight

  • “Are you praying for the lives of unborn children?” asks officer in footage of recent street interrogation
  • Draft government guidance would prevent arrests based purely on silent thought near abortion facilities; Home Office welcomes public feedback until 11.59pm this evening
  • ADF UK’s guide to responding to the consultation available here

BIRMINGHAM (22nd January 2024) – New footage obtained by ADF UK shows an officer grilling charitable volunteer Isabel Vaughan-Spruce as to the nature of her silent thoughts in an abortion facility “buffer zone”.

An officer employed by West Midlands Police probed Vaughan-Spruce as to if she was “praying for the lives of unborn children.” Vaughan-Spruce explained that she was “just simply thinking, silently in my head.”

Vaughan-Spruce, who has engaged in charitable support for new mothers and women in crisis pregnancies for over twenty years, prays regularly, in silence, on the public street nearby an abortion facility. In September 2022, local authorities installed the “buffer zone,” which forbids any expression of “approval or disapproval” of abortion, and prohibits making offers of charitable support to women. Since the enforcement of the censorship zone, Vaughan-Spruce has limited her activity within the zone to silent prayer.



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Vaughan-Spruce has been arrested twice on the basis of her silent thoughts and was fully vindicated last March when Birmingham Magistrates’ Court returned a not guilty verdict. Free speech advocates have raised concerns regarding the human rights violations that “buffer zones” engender, including going so far as to prohibit consensual conversation between adults, in addition to silent prayer – in contravention of human rights law.

I’ve been arrested twice and fully vindicated by a court verdict that upheld my freedom of thought, and yet even still, officers continue to interrogate me for the simple act of thinking prayerful thoughts on a public street. This isn’t 1984, but 2023. No matter one’s beliefs on abortion, nobody should be punished merely for the prayers they hold inside their head.

Ahead of the new ‘buffer zones’ law being implemented, there is an urgent need for clarity as to everybody’s right to freedom of thought, as is protected in international human rights law. The Home Office’s draft guidance at least affirms that nobody should be criminalised on the basis of their thoughts alone. This is obvious common-sense protection for basic rights that must be upheld,” said Isabel Vaughan-Spruce.

ADF UK, who supported the legal defence of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and others criminalised for their thoughts within “buffer zones,” have published a guide to responding to the consultation in favour of freedom of thought, available here.

Home Office welcoming feedback on “buffer zones” guidance

The UK parliament voted to roll out censorial “buffer zones” around abortion facilities across the country as part of the Public Order Act adopted in 2023. The national zones would prohibit “influencing” within 150m of abortion facilities. This new threshold for criminality has raised concerns about the ambiguity of what kind of activity may count as “influence” – including consensual conversation or silent prayer within the zone.

The Home Office has issued draft non-statutory guidance for police and prosecutors regarding “buffer zones,” which clarifies that nobody should be arrested on the basis of their thoughts alone – as required by international human rights law.

Free speech advocates have welcomed this clarification in the guidance, which could prevent more citizens from being arrested solely on the basis of their silent thoughts. Yet, some activists have called for the guidance to be edited to include even harsher censorship restrictions.

“Isabel is one of several individuals who has faced arrest, fines, and/or interrogations as to their thoughts inside a ‘buffer zone,’ which spans across several public streets. The UK must abide by its human rights obligations, under which nobody should be criminalised for their thoughts. It’s vital that we maintain this most basic standard of a liberal democracy. Once we allow for thought to be policed on one issue area, the precedent has been set for these abuses to proliferate.

Nobody should ever face harassment or aggression outside an abortion facility. But the law must protect the rights of those who are there to peacefully live out their convictions through offers of help or even silent prayer. It’s imperative that members of the public who are committed to maintaining the preservation of a free society  in the U.K. take the opportunity to respond to the public consultation today,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, the organisation which supported Vaughan-Spruce’s legal defence.

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