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World News

Birmingham priest charged by police for 'praying for free speech' in abortion buffer zone

by Sophie Drew

A Catholic priest was charged for by police “intimidating” visitors to an abortion clinic by standing nearby with a placard stating 'Praying for free speech'.

Father Sean Gough, from Birmingham, was approached by police because he was breaching a PSPO, known as a buffer zone, which stops people from doing anything which may intimidate someone attending a clinic.

This can include protesting, handing out support leaflets and even praying.

He was charged with four counts of failure to comply with a PSPO.

As well as being charged over his presence in the buffer zone, he was also charged because his car, parked nearby, had a bumper sticker that said “unborn lives matter”.

Shortly after being charged, the charges were then dropped and Fr Sean is now looking to get clarification on his rights.

His case is similar to that of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested late last year after “silently praying” outside a closed clinic and breaching the PSPO. Her charges were also dropped.

The rules were introduced by Birmingham City Council to ensure "people visiting and working there have clear access without fear of confrontation.”

These buffer zones could be rolled out nationally. Last November, MPs in voted in favour of introducing them across England and Wales.

Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed MPs will back similar legislation in Scotland. The decision has already been made law in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to Premier, Lois McLatchie, from religious freedom charity ADF International said these laws are not fit for purpose.

“I absolutely condemn any harassment towards women in any situation of life, let alone near an abortion facility, but what we need to understand is that these buffer zones go so far as to take out the bad and the good together.”

“We can rest assured that instances of harassment can already result in a prosecution, but buffer zones go so much further.

"This is why it’s so important – especially for the Christian community to understand – is that it isn’t right for the Government to impose a law that goes so far as to ban prayer – even prayer in our heads.”

The Crown Prosecution Service told Premier Christian News: “We review all cases ahead of court where the police have charged. Following a review of this case, we concluded it did not meet our legal test to proceed.”


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