After a video of a charity volunteer’s arrest outside of an abortion facility went viral this month, further details have now emerged as to the nature of the charges that she faces.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, 45, was standing still and silently when police approached her. When asked what she was doing, she clarified that she was not protesting, but “might be” praying inside her mind.
She was searched, arrested, interrogated, and charged on four counts for breaking the so-called “buffer zone” around a Birmingham abortion facility. The terms of the PSPO define protest as including prayer, and also prohibit any act or attempted act of intimidation.
The abortion facility was closed each time that Vaughan-Spruce chose to pray since the introduction of the “buffer zone” in November. Furthermore, she had made clear to the arresting officers that she was not there to protest. It was only after police inferred that she might be praying in her head, per her admission, that she was arrested. So Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for silent prayer as a form of protest under the PSPO.
Despite only praying silently within her mind, and the fact that no-one else was present, Vaughan-Spruce was subsequently charged with “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users”.
Based on the charges, the act of standing silently was also deemed “intimidating” behaviour, even though the abortion facility was closed and there was no discernible subject of this intimidation, and despite her clear admission that she was not there to protest.
Isabel will face court on 2nd February. The whole case is in very stark contrast to how the police and authorities treat Extinction Rebellion protesters, whose actions blocking major roads inconvenience and even endanger huge numbers of decent citizens trying to go about their normal lives.
“It’s abhorrently wrong that I was searched, arrested, interrogated by police, and charged simply for praying in the privacy of my own mind. Censorship zones purport to ban harassment, which is already illegal and I condemn wholeheartedly. Nobody should ever be subject to harassment. But what I did was the furthest thing from harmful – I was exercising my freedom of thought, my freedom of religion, inside the privacy of my own mind. Nobody should be criminalised for thinking and for praying, in a public space in the UK,” said Isabel Vaughan-Spruce.