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Army veteran charged for praying outside abortion facility

Adam Smith-Connor, a 49-year-old physiotherapist and army veteran, has been charged by The Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council for silently praying within an abortion facility buffer zone. 

Financial penalty escalated to a criminal charge

In December 2022, Mr Smith-Connor was fined £100 for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in Bournemouth that is covered by a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO). The PSPO prohibits prayer, offers of help, counselling, and other activities that could constitute protest. Mr Smith-Connor had been praying for a son that he lost through an abortion that he had paid for. 

Now, the BCP Council is filing criminal charges against Mr Smith-Connor and he will appear before Bournemouth Magistrates Court on 9 August 2023 for his first hearing. 

Council does not follow legal process

According to Mr Smith-Connor’s legal representatives, ADF UK, the Council issued a charge against him on 12 May 2023. The Council is legally obliged to notify Mr Smith-Connor of the summons as soon as possible. However, they did not contact him until 19 July 2023. This is eight weeks after the statutory time limit for charging him and almost ten weeks after the charge itself was issued. 

Since his initial encounter with police in November 2022, Mr Smith-Connor has not been brought in for questioning whilst the Council has been gathering evidence. 

U-turn goes against police comments

The Council’s decision to charge Mr Smith-Connor has been described as a “staggering u-turn”. This comes after a video of an encounter between Mr Smith-Connor and a police officer showed Mr Smith-Connor being told he is not breaking the law and “this is England and it’s a public place and you’re entitled to do that [pray]”. 

“It’s unthinkable that I was issued a penalty simply for praying for my son, Jacob, whom I lost to an abortion I paid for … It isn’t for the authorities to determine the contents of my thoughts on this matter, on a public street”, said Mr Smith-Connor. 

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, the organisation supporting Mr Smith-Connor’s legal defence, said “This case has no place in a country with a historical and proud commitment to the rule of law”. 

“The Code for Crown Prosecutors requires prosecutors to be even-handed in their approach to every case, and to protect the rights of suspects and defendants – a duty which has been ignored at every stage by the Council, which has not only shown itself to be incapable of impartiality, but also failed to grasp the gravity of inaugurating thoughtcrime trials in the UK”. 

Alarming trend of peaceful activities being criminalised

Earlier this year, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a charity volunteer, and Fr Sean Gough, a Catholic priest, were both charged for allegedly violating a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) and had the charges against them dropped in February.

Ms Vaughan-Spruce was arrested again in March of this year for the same alleged violation of a PSPO. She is currently on bail awaiting a decision on her charge. 

In March 2023, parliament passed legislation that includes a clause to mandate 150m ‘buffer zones’ around abortion facilities nationwide. The clause makes “influencing” any person who wants to access abortion services illegal. 

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said “Mr Smith-Connor is being charged for praying silently for his deceased son. It is clear that this in no way constitutes harassment or a threat to others”. 

“As has been pointed out many times, there are laws in place to prevent harassment and intimidation and these should be enforced if and when necessary. There is no need for draconian legislation that criminalises thoughts”. 

Dear reader,

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