First case in modern times of arrest and prosecution for praying sees charges dropped
A Christian man who was arrested and prosecuted for peacefully praying outside an abortion clinic in London has had the charges against him dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.
The arrest and case, revealed by police body camera footage, raises 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.
Praying constitutes 'harassment'
Christian Hacking, 29, from London, who needs a wheelchair after breaking his back in a climbing accident, was arrested by police on the 8 August 2019 for allegedly failing to comply with a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) outside of Marie Stopes abortion clinic on Mattock Lane, Ealing.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Mr Hacking, the son of an hereditary peer, pleaded ‘not guilty’, and was set to go on trial on 5 November 2019 at Uxbridge Magistrates Court. This was until a letter was sent to him stating that the case would no longer be taken forward due to there being not ‘enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.’
The PSPO, put in place by Ealing Council in April 2018, was the first buffer zone surrounding an abortion clinic to be introduced in the UK. The exclusion zone, upheld by the Court of Appeal in October 2019, prohibits a range of activities within 100m of the clinic and even outlaws 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.’
Peacefully sat on the grass
The manager of the Marie Stopes clinic, emerged from the building with the printed PSPO order and said to one of the officers: “They’ve been praying… they had every intention of you being called, so they were making a protest.”
"I'm going to continue praying"
Despite being warned by the police that merely being on the green outside of the clinic constitutes breaking the PSPO, Mr Hacking said in response: "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."
Mr Hacking then asked for clarification from the police officer if it was a criminal offence for him to pray in that location. The officer said: "l'm saying you're in breach of the court order.” Mr Hacking 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."
Police riot van arrives
Although the police warned Mr Hacking that he might be arrested, they failed to caution him. Mr Hacking told the police that PSPOs were meant to be used to prevent anti-social behaviour and continued to pray. He prayed for the mothers, fathers, children and the staff members at the clinic, until a member of the public walked past, threatened Christian, and accused him of "terrorising people."
It is then that the officers again illegally fail to caution Mr Hacking and instead arrest him saying: “Stand up, Christian, you are under arrest.”
Mr Hacking responded saying: “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.”
A large police riot van then arrived, and four officers carried Mr Hacking by his legs and arms and put him in ‘the cage’. As Christian is carried to the van he cries out:
"I haven't done anything wrong other than pray." Mr Hacking was then taken to Acton police station where he was imprisoned for eight hours before being released on bail.
52 years of the Abortion Act
Mr Hacking, whose prayers outside the clinic included The Lord's Prayer, said: "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.
“52 years ago the UK was sold a lie that the Abortion Act was a compassionate response to prevent extreme cases and back-street abortions. It has now escalated beyond proportion. Since 1967 nine million unborn children, have been aspirated, poisoned and disembowelled in the womb. It’s what the trade calls a “safe abortion procedure”.
"Abortion providers not only want to increase this figure but they are committed to stopping anyone getting in the way of business as usual, and worse still they have got local councils and Parliament to do their dirty work for them. This week, abortion has also been forced undemocratically onto the people of Northern Ireland where 100,000 people are alive today because abortion has not existed there.
“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."
Free speech and free movement must be restored
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “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. It’s 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.”