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Council facing complaint after officers interrogate woman for praying on public street

by Will Hobbs

A formal complaint has been made after a charity volunteer was forcefully moved off a street by council officials while she prayed near an abortion clinic in Bournemouth.

63-year-old Livia Tossici-Bolt held a sign offering charitable help to women in crisis pregnancy situations.

The sign read: “PREGNANT? NEED HELP?”

It included access to a lifeline where people could learn about support available to them should they choose to continue their pregnancy.

While three officers accused her of breaching a buffer zone, video evidence showed she was standing outside it, 150 meters from the abortion facility.

It's the second time the retired scientist has been moved on from praying outside a buffer zone, in which it is illegal to protest.

She expects to hear back from the council by 28th December.

Lois McClatchie Miller from the Christian legal advocacy group ADF UK told Premier that a worrying trend of infringements on legal expression of belief is developing.

"We've seen more and more instances of people getting into trouble, even going as far as being taken to court on criminal charges for praying inside their heads silently, or here in this case, just simply offering help.

"And so it is a trend that's increasing. In the new year, we're expecting to see a law rolled out across the UK, which will enforce these buffer zones everywhere across England and Wales."

ADF has described buffer zone laws, which prohibit silent prayer and consensual conversations, as "a slippery slope," rejecting the idea they were designed to prevent harassment or intimidation.

It points out that no pro-life vigil volunteers have been convicted of harassment and intimidation in over 40 years of pro-life presence near abortion facilities.

"These zones have the effect of stamping out pro-life views from the public square. If the state is allowed to criminalize the mere holding of pro-life viewpoints within certain public spaces, on what basis can we object to criminalization in all public spaces?

"The principle of freedom of thought and speech must be defended both within and outside ‘buffer zones’ – the alternative is state-sponsored censorship, the silencing of those with viewpoints considered non-mainstream, and the undermining of the very fabric of our democracy."

In a statement to Premier, a spokesperson for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council said: “While our teams continue to deal with this complaint, which remains under consideration, we cannot comment further on proceedings.”   

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