BIRMINGHAM (22 September 2023) – Following a six-month investigation, West Midlands Police have confirmed that they will not bring charges against Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, issuing an apology for the length of time to reach the decision not to prosecute her for silent prayer.
The charitable volunteer was arrested for praying in a “buffer zone” surrounding an abortion facility on Station Road, Birmingham, on 6th March. The censorship zone, introduced by local authorities via a “Public Spaces Protection Order,” bans prayer, amongst other activities considered to constitute protest against abortion. The full text is available here.
The arrest caught worldwide attention in a viral video, in which police accused Vaughan-Spruce of committing an offence by silently praying in her own mind: “you’ve said you’ve been engaging in prayer, which is the offence”.
“This isn’t 1984, but 2023 – I should never have been arrested or investigated simply for the thoughts I held in my own mind. Silent prayer is never criminal. I welcome West Midland Police’s decision to end their investigation and their apology for the time it took to do so, but it’s important to highlight the extremely harmful implications of this ordeal not just for myself, but for everyone concerned with fundamental freedoms in the UK. What happened to me signals to others that they too could face arrest, interrogation, investigation, and potential prosecution if caught exercising their basic freedom of thought,” commented Isabel Vaughan-Spruce upon receiving the apology from West Midlands Police.
“Now that authorities have twice settled on the conclusion that silent prayer is not a crime – a conclusion also reached by the Home Secretary last week – I am thankful to resume my practice of praying silently for women in crisis pregnancies,” continued Vaughan-Spruce.
Government to rollout “buffer zones”
The decision from the police not to prosecute Vaughan-Spruce for her silent prayer comes amidst pending government plans to implement similar censorial “buffer zones” around abortion facilities across the country. The Public Order Act, which passed through Parliament in May 2023, would prohibit “influence” in an area of 150m around abortion facilities. Free speech advocates have raised concerns that such vague terminology will criminalise not only harassment, but peaceful conversations, leafleting, and prayer. An amendment to explicitly protect silent prayer and consensual conversations within the censorship zones was proposed by Andrew Lewer MP, but failed to pass after a vote of 116 to 299.
On 2nd September, Home Secretary Suella Braverman published an open letter, directing police to avoid politicised policing. The letter clarifies “silent prayer, within itself, is not unlawful” and that, “holding lawful opinions, even if those opinions may offend others, is not a criminal offence.” 4 in 10 Brits believe police are more interested in ‘wokeness’ than catching criminals, according to a survey carried out by Public First.
“The arduous process of this criminal ordeal has been the punishment for Isabel. Moreover, her story has put the world on notice that fundamental freedoms are vulnerable in the UK,” commented Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, who supported Vaughan-Spruce’s legal defence.
“There is now an urgent need for legal changes to stem the tide of policing by politics. We hope the decision from West Midlands Police that they will not prosecute free thought, alongside the Home Secretary’s public commitment to protecting silent prayer, will be reflected in legislation, guidance, and practice,” added Igunnubole.
CPS contradict West Midands Police’s misleading reason for drawn-out investigation
West Midlands Police has now issued an apology for the time taken to close Isabel’s case, confirming that “there will be no further investigation into the alleged matter, and there will be no further action taken”.
However, the police force failed to explain why they initially informed Vaughan-Spruce that the delay was a result of the matter being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider charges – a claim which the CPS has firmly denied.
In response to an FOI request, the CPS confirmed that they “hold no information” concerning a second case being referred to them for a charging decision and that “the police should not submit a case to the CPS for charging advice when they have the power to make the charging decision themselves”, as was the case for Vaughan–Spruce’s alleged offense.
With support from ADF UK, Vaughan-Spruce is currently considering options to pursue redress for her treatment at the hands of the police.
Meanwhile in Dorset, a father and Afghanistan veteran awaits trial for committing the same act of silent prayer inside a censorial “buffer zone” in Bournemouth.
Adam Smith-Connor, who has been charged for praying in the zone about his own experience of abortion and for the men and women facing difficult decisions about the issue today, will appear at Poole Magistrates Court in November. ADF UK are supporting his legal defence. Find out more.