Priest and pro-life volunteer cleared over silent prayers outside abortion clinic

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, Co-CEO of March for Life UK.(Photo: ADF UK)

A Catholic priest and pro-life volunteer have been cleared in court today after being charged by police for praying silently inside an abortion clinic buffer zone.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce and Fr Sean Gough were charged with "intimidating service-users" of the clinic in Birmingham, despite it being closed at the time.

Fr Sean received a further charge in relation to parking his car within the zone while displaying an "unborn lives matter" bumper sticker. 

The Crown Prosecution Service later dropped the charges but informed both of them that they could be reinstated if further evidence emerged. 

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF UK) said this had left the pair with significant legal uncertainty.

They appeared before Birmingham Magistrates' Court today to receive clarity about their legal status and clear their names. 

If found guilty by the court, they could have both been left with a criminal record.

Responding to the not guilty verdict, Vaughan-Spruce said, "I'm glad I've been vindicated of any wrongdoing. But I should never have been arrested for my thoughts and treated like a criminal simply for silently praying on a public street.

"When it comes to censorship zones, peaceful prayer and attempts to offer help to women in crisis pregnancies are now being described as either 'criminal' or 'anti-social'.

"But what is profoundly anti-social are the steps now being taken to censor freedom of speech, freedom to offer help, freedom to pray and even freedom to think.

"We must stand firm against this and ensure that these most fundamental freedoms are protected, and that all our laws reflect this."

Fr Sean Gough with his signboard.(Photo: ADF UK)

Fr Sean said: "I'm pleased that I've been cleared of all charges today and to have cleared my name.

"I stand by my beliefs – unborn lives do matter. But whatever your views are on abortion, we can all agree that a democratic country cannot be in the business of prosecuting thought crimes.

"If the government imposes censorship zones around every abortion facility in the country, as they are considering doing with the Public Order Bill currently under discussion, who knows how many more people will stand trial, even face prison, for offering help, or for praying in their mind?

"I call on the government to look into the overwhelming positive work that pro-life groups do to support vulnerable women at their point of need, before censoring the streets of the UK and allowing good people to be criminalised for acts of love."

Their legal defence, Jeremiah Igunnubole, of ADF UK, said it was it was crucial that the court issue a clear legal verdict.

"As our Parliament continues to debate the national rollout of censorship zones across England and Wales, it is imperative that we receive legal clarity given even the police and prosecution services can't agree on what is and is not a crime," he said. 

"The reality is that every person should have their freedom to think and pray respected without running the risk of prosecution under vaguely worded and entirely disproportionate censorship zones."

Ryan Christopher, Director of ADF UK, said, "It's remarkable that in 2023, in the UK, upstanding people are embroiled in criminal proceedings, all because they prayed in their minds.

"Father Sean was charged for an old 'Unborn Lives Matter' bumper sticker and for making it clear that he was praying for free speech – and this case only makes clear that more prayers are needed – coupled with concrete legislative changes to stymie the concerning downward trajectory of free speech protections in the UK.

"Both Isabel and Father Sean have a history of going above and beyond to charitably serve women in crisis pregnancy, young mothers, and people who have been impacted by abortion.

"This censorial PSPO regulation has resulted in both being unjustly punished for their thoughts and beliefs in an unjust and completely unnecessary legal process.

"Westminster should pay close attention to these consequences before rolling out buffer zones across England and Wales."