Last December, the ‘thoughtcrime’ case of Isabel Vaughan-Spruce displayed a harrowing Orwellian reality as we saw the charity volunteer treated like a criminal for silently praying near an abortion facility – an action deemed by West Midlands Police force as “intimidating”.
Now, her case is over.
While these Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPO) have equated prayer to protest, Isabel prayed silently, and our laws, properly interpreted, simply cannot be interpreted as criminalising thoughts in the privacy of our minds.
The past six months were exhausting for Isabel, who repeatedly stood up for her fundamental freedoms, including her freedom to think and even be in a public space.
The Process is the Punishment
- On 6 December 2022, Isabel was arrested for silently and unobtrusively praying within the vicinity of a closed abortion facility in Birmingham.
- Police officers proceeded to conduct a humiliating search, including a search through Isabel’s hair, before detaining her in police custody and interrogating her at length about the nature of her prayers and thoughts.
- That same day, Isabel was released on bail under the conditions that she couldn’t interact with local Catholic priest, Fr Sean Gough, nor could she attend or pray anywhere near the abortion facility, even beyond the PSPO restriction.
- On 15 December 2022, after representations that these conditions were wholly disproportionate, unnecessary, and in breach of human rights, West Midlands Police varied the bail conditions to ensure the ban only applied to the PSPO-related restricted area.
- On the same day, Isabel was charged with four counts of breaching the PSPO. All counts related to instances of silent prayer.
- On 23 January 2023, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) informed Birmingham Magistrates’ Court that there was insufficient evidence to continue with a prosecution on all four counts.
- On 16 February, Isabel pursued a court verdict and all the charges against her were dismissed by Birmingham Magistrates’ Court.
- On 6 March, Isabel prayed silently, as she had done previously, and was again arrested. She received no explanation for why she was being arrested for the same conduct that CPS and the court had only just clarified to be within the law.
- Isabel was again released on bail with the same unnecessary and disproportionate conditions that she challenged before, namely that she refrain from attending places outside the PSPO-restricted area. This prevented her from joining her prayer group during the ‘40 Days For Life’ vigil before Easter.
- Isabel again had to challenge the bail conditions, arguing that they were disproportionate and being effected for an improper purpose.
- On 6 April, West Midlands Police informed Isabel that the case had been referred to the local authority to consider prosecution.
- On 14 April, West Midlands Police again conceded that the bail conditions were disproportionate and varied them to ensure the ban only applied to the PSPO-related restricted area.
- On 31 May, West Midlands Police informed Isabel that the case was with the CPS to consider prosecution (rather than the local authority.)
- On 5 June, West Midlands Police conceded that charity volunteer Isabel Vaughan-Spruce is now “permitted within the area” after three months of onerous bail conditions that prevented her from attending the censorship zone outside an abortion facility in Birmingham.
- On 22 September, all of Isabel’s charges were dropped. West Midlands Police issued an apology for the length of time it took to conduct the investigation into her silent prayer within a “buffer zone”.
Remember this disturbing fact: Isabel has been prevented from attending a public space simply because she prayed, silently, and in her own mind.
Isabel was punished and her rights were restricted, despite a ‘not guilty’ verdict. Silent prayer should never be a crime in the UK.
In a free and democratic country, no one should be criminalised for prayer, let alone prayer conducted in the privacy of their own mind.