Catholic woman’s silent prayer lawful, British police force admits; ‘thoughtcrime’ arrest dropped
A Catholic woman in Britain who has twice been arrested for “praying silently in my head” near an abortion clinic had her latest charges dropped, with law enforcement apologizing.
Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a charitable volunteer arrested near the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s clinic in Birmingham, received the apology from West Midlands Police for the amount of time it took to close out the investigation.
Police blamed the delay in dropping the case on what they said was a referral to the Crown Prosecution Service, the public agency that prosecutes criminal cases in Britain and Wales, according to ADF UK, the legal group representing Ms. Vaughn-Spruce.
The attorneys said the prosecution service “has firmly denied” involvement in the case.
Ms. Vaughn-Spruce is “currently considering options to pursue redress” from the police force, the legal group said.
The March 2023 arrest came two weeks after a February acquittal of similar charges stemming from a December 2022 arrest at the same location. A magistrates’ court in Birmingham handed down that decision.
Critics have blasted the prosecutions of those praying silently near abortion facilities as “thoughtcrimes,” a term from George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
The decision to drop the case came after the release of a letter from British Home Secretary Sella Braverman declaring “silent prayer, in itself, is not unlawful” and instructing the nation’s police forces to keep politics out of law enforcement.
“I am concerned that confidence in policing has been affected by perceptions that the police have in recent years been seen, on occasion, to be taking a political stance,” Ms. Braverman wrote in the Sept. 1 missive, which the Conservative member of Parliament and cabinet official published on X.
Ms. Vaughn-Spruce said she “welcom[ed]” the decision to end the criminal case: “What happened to me signals to others that they too could face arrest, interrogation, investigation and potential prosecution if caught exercising their basic freedom of thought.
“This isn’t 1984, but 2023 — I should never have been arrested or investigated simply for the thoughts I held in my own mind. Silent prayer is never criminal,” she said.
An attorney representing Ms. Vaughan-Spruce said the arrest and potential prosecution were harrowing.
“The arduous process of this criminal ordeal has been the punishment for Isabel. Moreover, her story has put the world on notice that fundamental freedoms are vulnerable in the UK,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK.
While Ms. Vaughn-Spruce’s case was dropped, Adam Smith-Connor’s has not. Mr. Smith-Connor was arrested on the orders of the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council while standing silently near an abortion clinic in Bournemouth, England.
A father and British army veteran of the Afghanistan war, Mr. Smith-Connor faces a criminal trial on Nov. 16 for violating a designated “buffer zone” around the clinic.