London abortion clinic protest ban legal challenge reaches Court of Appeal

Sean Morrison

A challenge against a ban on demonstrations outside an abortion clinic in west London has reached the Court of Appeal.

Ealing Council was the first in the country to create a 100-metre protest-free "buffer zone" outside a Marie Stopes clinic following protests.

Alina Dulgheriu, of the Be Here For Me campaign, argued the ban was an unlawful interference with protesters' rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, including the right to freedom of expression.

But the case was dismissed last year by a High Court judge who concluded that, while the ban does interfere with activists' rights, the council was "entitled" to consider it was a "necessary step in a democratic society".

Ms Dulgheriu, 35, will challenge that ruling at a hearing before three senior judges on Tuesday.

Pro-life demonstrators ahead of the key vote by Ealing Council (PA)

A group of mothers who say they were helped by vigil members outside abortion clinics will hold a rally outside the Royal Courts of Justice at 11.30am while the hearing is taking place.

The public spaces protection order (PSPO) came into force in April after reports of "intimidation, harassment and distress" for women using the facility in Mattock Lane.

Clinical operations manager John Hansen-Brevetti said women had been told the ghost of their foetus would haunt them, had been told "mummy, mummy, don't kill me", had holy water thrown on them and rosary beads thrust at them.

Ruling on the case in July last year, Mr Justice Turner said: "There was substantial evidence that a very considerable number of users of the clinic reasonably felt that their privacy was being very seriously invaded at a time and place when they were most vulnerable and sensitive to uninvited attention.

"It also follows that, in this regard, I am also satisfied that the defendant (council) was entitled to conclude that the effect of the activities of the protesters was likely to make such activities unreasonable and justified the restrictions imposed."

Pro-choice demonstrators gathering outside the Marie Stopes clinic on Mattock Lane (PA)

The judge said his ruling did not give the "green light" to local authorities to impose PSPOs around all abortion clinics and each case must be decided on its own facts.

Ms Dulgheriu says she was offered financial, practical and moral help, as well as accommodation, and now has a "beautiful" daughter.

In a statement following the ruling, she said: "I am saddened and shocked that the court has upheld a PSPO that prevents good people giving help to mothers who desperately want it.

"I am devastated for those women that, since the introduction of the Ealing PSPO, have not been able to access the loving help that I did.

"I feel desperately sorry for the vigil members who since the move to create this PSPO have been consistently subject to abuse on the street and slander online."

Ealing Council leader Julian Bell said at the time of the ruling: "This sends a clear message to those that have denied that there is evidence of unacceptable behaviour having a detrimental impact on people in this area, that there was a problem and action needed to be taken.

"The harassment and intimidation of local residents and those accessing legally available medical services was totally unacceptable and 'the feelings of intrusion' was clearly having a negative impact.

"Since the safe zone was implemented in April, we have seen a dramatic reduction in anti-social behaviour, confirming to us that we were right to take this action in the interest of those people living in the locality of Mattock Lane, and for those who visit the area."

Ms Dulgheriu's appeal will be heard by the Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton and two other leading judges at 10.30am.

Reporting by the Press Association