A Christian man who was arrested and prosecuted for peacefully praying outside a London abortion clinic has seen the charges against dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service, thanks to support from the Christian Legal Centre.
The arrest and case raise the question of whether praying in a public space now constitutes ‘harassment’ and whether ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics breach freedom of expression, religion and thought.
Warned for sitting peacefully
Christian Hacking, 29 and wheelchair-bound after breaking his back in a climbing accident, was arrested by police in August 2019 for failing to comply with a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) outside a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Ealing.
Police were initially called after a member of staff reported two men praying on the grass outside.
Police body camera footage shows two police officers approach Christian and a friend who was with him, beginning by saying, “You seem two very nice people, but…”
Police warned Christian and his friend that merely being on the green outside of the clinic was a breach of the PSPO.
After this, his friend leaves, but Christian can be heard saying, “I’m going to continue praying. I’m in this place because they’re killing human beings inside this clinic, it is against the law to ban anyone praying anywhere in this land. The PSPO has been built upon false grounds, false harassment, fake news, I don’t respect it. I don’t think you have a constitutional right to stop someone from praying, so I’m going to continue praying here until you remove me, forcibly or whatever, because what’s more important is that God’s law is upheld in this nation and not the law of those who govern this nation and not this ludicrous law that says people can’t pray.”
Christian then asked for clarification from the police officer over whether it was a criminal offence to pray in that location. The officer said: “l’m saying you’re in breach of the court order.” Christian responded: “So it’s a criminal offence to pray, according to the court order, it’s a criminal offence to pray outside of a place where children are being killed?” The officer then merely stated: “I believe that I’ve given you the answer.”
Arrested for praying
Police body camera footage then shows a police riot van arriving at the scene.
Failing to caution Christian with an official warning, the police then arrested Christian, saying, “stand up, Christian, you are under arrest.”
Christian replied, “I can’t stand up, I’m in a wheelchair. I’m not moving, I’m praying. I’m not going to capitulate to your demands. I am allowed to pray here. This earth was the Lord’s before it was Ealing Council’s.”
Four officers then carried Christian by his arms and legs, putting him into the police riot van. As Christian is carried to the van he cries out: “I haven’t done anything wrong other than pray.” He was then taken to Acton police station where he was imprisoned for eight hours before being released on bail.
Christian commented on his experience: “To be treated like a criminal and imprisoned for eight hours for praying is ludicrous. My Christian faith calls me to defend the voiceless and what more peaceful way can I achieve this than through prayer. If abortion providers don’t want me praying outside their clinic they should buy the land and ring fence it. Not arrest people for doing what they don’t like on public property.
“I do not regret what I did, and urge the Church to pray more, not less outside of clinics until the killing stops. Surely we, as a nation, can give women in a crisis something better than abortion. I care deeply about all the families who attend abortion clinics and will continue to do what it takes, no matter what, until this silent genocide of innocent children ends.”
Praying a form of harassment?
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Christian was set to go to trial on 5 November. However, a letter was sent to him stating that the case would no longer be taken forward because there was not “enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.”
The PSPO around the Ealing abortion clinic was the first of its kind to be introduced in the UK. The exclusion zone, upheld by the Court of Appeal in October 2019, prohibits a range of activities within a 100m radius of the clinic, even outlawing prayer. It states:
“[people must not engage] in any act of approval/disapproval or attempted act of approval/disapproval, with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means. This includes but is not limited to graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counselling.”
Christian Concern has previously campaigned against ‘abortion buffer zones’ prohibiting prayer around clinics. Last year, the creation of ‘protest-free zones’ was reviewed by Sajid Javid MP, with the former Home Secretary and current Chancellor concluding that the move “would not be a proportionate response”.
Free speech and free movement must be restored
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, commented: “It is astonishing that vital police resources have been used to arrest and detain a man in a wheelchair for peacefully praying outside an abortion clinic.
“The alleged purpose of the PSPO legislation was to prevent harassment despite there never having been evidence to show that women have been harassed. The authorities now seem to think that even prayer is harassment. Christian did not harass anybody, and his arrest was just plain wrong.
“The footage of four police officers carrying a disabled man and his wheelchair to a riot van, simply for praying, is deeply disturbing. Its intended effect is to silence any opposition to what is going on in the clinic. Christian’s arrest will have the opposite result.
“Christian took a courageous stand outside of the clinic motivated by God’s love for each and every one of us and especially for women in crisis pregnancies and their children. What does it say about our society when peaceful compassion for life is treated by arrest and imprisonment?
“We call on Ealing Council to review their policy around the buffer zone and for free speech and free movement to be properly restored to the area.”
Find out more about Christian Hacking