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Local council prosecute army veteran over silent prayer in unexpected U-Turn

  • Bournemouth authorities criminally charge Adam Smith-Connor for silently praying in abortion facility “buffer zone” – hearing 9th August 
  • Authorities failed to notify Smith-Connor, whose legal defense is supported by ADF UK, of the charge until two months after it was filed

BOURNEMOUTH, UK (4th August 2023) – Local authorities have filed criminal charges against Adam Smith-Connor, the army veteran and father fined for praying silently within an abortion facility censorship zone or “buffer zone”. 

Smith-Connor’s first hearing will take place in the Poole Magistrates Court on 9th August. He is expected to enter a plea of “not guilty”, and the Court to set the date for his trial. His legal defense is supported by ADF UK. 

Nobody should be prosecuted for silent prayer. It is unfathomable that in an apparently free society, I am being criminally charged on the basis of what I expressed silently, in the privacy of my own mind. I served for 20 years in the army reserves, including a tour in Afghanistan, to protect the fundamental freedoms that this country is built upon. I continue that spirit of service as a health care professional and church volunteer. It troubles me greatly to see our freedoms eroded to the extent that thoughtcrimes are now being prosecuted in the UK,” said Adam Smith-Connor, upon the news of his prosecution.   

Smith-Connor was issued a fixed penalty notice on 13th December 2022. The notice detailed that he had been “praying for his deceased son” a month earlier on 24th November 2022 near an abortion facility on Orphir Road in Bournemouth where an abortion facility censorship zone or “buffer zone” is in place.  

Supporters of freedom of thought are invited to join ADF UK in backing Adam’s legal defense, as well as the defense of others facing penalties for praying silently or expressing their faith in the public square:



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Smith-Connor, who now regrets having paid for an abortion for his ex-girlfriend in the past, was praying about his experience, about the son whom he lost, and for the men and women facing difficult decisions about abortion today. He prayed with his back to the facility to avoid any impression of approaching or engaging with  women using the facility. 

“It’s unthinkable that I was issued a penalty simply for praying for my son, Jacob, whom I lost to an abortion I paid for. The decision I made all those years ago now grieves me deeply. I was praying also for those contemplating abortion, especially those in vulnerable situations who believe abortion is their “only choice”. It isn’t for the authorities to determine the contents of my thoughts on this matter, on a public street”, said Adam Smith-Connor. 

A Staggering U-Turn 

The Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole (BCP) Council issued a charge against Smith-Connor on 12th May 2023. Despite the Council being legally required to notify Smith-Connor of the summons as soon as possible, they did not do so, nor did they engage in any other form of communication with him until 19th July 2023 – eight weeks after the elapse of the statutory time-limit for charging him, and almost ten weeks after the charge was issued.  

Smith-Connor was not brought in for questioning throughout the eight-month period which the council had to gather evidence. Had he been questioned under caution, he would have had an opportunity to give an account of his actions and entitled to legal representation.  

The charges brought by the Council come as a surprise, given that in a filmed encounter with police on another occasion in which Smith-Connor had silently prayed in the same spot, officers had informed him that he was not breaking the law, remarking, “this is England and it’s a public place and you’re entitled to do that.” 


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In permitting the prosecution of silent prayer, we are sailing into dangerous waters regarding human rights protections in the UK. Censorship zones are inherently wrong and engender unhelpful legal confusion regarding the right to free thought. Both domestic and international law have long established freedom of thought as an absolute right that must not ever be interfered with by the state,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, the organisation supporting Adam Smith-Connor’s legal defense. 

 “In various other circumstances, the police and the courts have made it clear that silent prayer is not a criminal act. And yet, BCP Council has introduced a rights-restricting censorship zone, which they now argue extends to a ban on silent prayer. The zone was created by the Council, enforced by the Council and now also prosecuted by the Council. This is a remarkable consolidation of power, making the council the judge, jury, and executioner.  

This case has no place in a country with a historical and proud commitment to the rule of law. The Code for Crown Prosecutors requires prosecutors to be even-handed in their approach to every case, and to protect the rights of suspects and defendants – a duty which has been ignored at every stage by the Council, which has not only shown itself to be incapable of impartiality, but also failed to grasp the gravity of inaugurating thoughtcrime trials in the UK,” continued Igunnubole. 

Thoughtcrime on Trial? 

Smith-Connor’s case will mark the third in a series of high-profile cases in which citizens have been tried in court for praying silently in their heads within abortion facility “buffer zones”.  

In March, charitable volunteer Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Catholic priest Father Sean Gough, were both found “not guilty” after facing criminal charges for similar actions to Smith-Connor. Read more. 

Though being found “not guilty” of breaching the censorship zone or “buffer zone” with her thoughts, Vaughan-Spruce was arrested a second time in March after she prayed silently in the same spot near the abortion facility once again. Six police officers attended the scene. Vaughan-Spruce was released on bail and awaits a decision on her charge, five months after West Midlands Police began their investigation.  

 Five councils across the UK currently have active “buffer zones” or censorship zones banning prayer and offers of charitable help to women on the public streets near abortion facilities. 

 On March 7, the UK parliament passed legislation that will roll out censorship zones across the country, which could be interpreted to ban silent prayer. As a result, there may be many more attempts to prosecute those who pray, or offer support services to women in need, near abortion facilities. 

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