Watch: Anti-abortion activist fined for standing silently outside clinic

Anti-abortion demonstrators hold placards in a protest in Parliament Square
Anti-abortion demonstrators hold placards in a protest in Parliament Square - MARTIN POPE/GETTY

An anti-abortion activist has been fined for standing silently in a street outside an abortion clinic.

Sebastian Vaughan-Spruce, 44, was handed a fixed penalty notice after being questioned by two police community support officers in the street in Birmingham, which is covered by a “buffer zone” around the clinic.

He was not carrying any signs and remained silent until he was approached by the officers, who challenged him to explain why he was standing in the street.

In a three-minute exchange, he said he was not praying but was simply standing silently in the street and asked why he was being asked to move on.

The officers maintained he was in an area covered by a public spaces protection order barring protesters from around the clinic. After Mr Vaughan-Spruce acknowledged he was aware of that fact, the officers fined him when he did not move on.

The incident, which was captured on video, has fuelled the row between anti-abortion campaigners and the Government over the operation of buffer zones around abortion clinics.

‘Unintrusive conduct’

The campaigners claim that prosecuting someone for standing silently in a buffer zone effectively criminalises a person’s thoughts and goes beyond Home Office draft guidance.

This states that “police should not target those they believe to have pro-life views. That may amount to unlawful discrimination on the basis of religion. Motionless, unintrusive conduct should not, on its own, be treated as an offence”.

However, West Midlands Police said there had been complaints since 2021 from residents in the street, clinic staff and patients, who had felt intimidated by protesters in the area.

Detective Superintendent Jim Munro, from Birmingham Local Policing Area, said: “While the people standing in [the road] would argue they are not protesting, their continued presence at the location is a breach of the order, which is well publicised.

“If they persist the council will issue a warning in the first instance, but if that does not deter the individual, a prosecution will be pursued, either by fixed penalty notice or court summons.”

‘Singled out because of my beliefs’

However, Mr Vaughan-Spruce said: “It’s abhorrently wrong that I was interrogated, and issued a penalty, simply for being pro-life and being on a certain public street. Others were present there at the same time, yet I was singled out because of the beliefs I happen to hold.

“We’re told buffer zones are there to prevent harassment – and I firmly believe that nobody should ever be subjected to harassment, which is already illegal. But these regulations are now being misused to punish people for ‘wrong thinking’ in a public space in the UK.”

Some MPs have also called for the Government to reconsider the Home Office guidance to make clear that silent prayer should not be treated as a criminal activity.

Andrew Lewer, Tory MP for Northampton South, said: “The Home Office guidance on buffer zones should at least protect these in order to uphold international standards on freedom of speech and of thought.

“While police crack down on these peaceful activities, they expose a double standard where protesters on different ideological issues are allowed much wider scope to express their beliefs.”