A man who was arrested after praying outside an abortion clinic has had charges against him dropped after officers failed to caution him before his arrest.
The clinic was the first in the UK to be covered by a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) – which specifically bans “engaging in any act of approval or disapproval” towards abortion outside the facility – including prayer.
Bodycam footage shows Mr Hacking ignoring officers while praying for god to “end the shedding of innocent blood” and to “have mercy upon the mothers”.
Mr Hacking, who tells officers he broke his back several years prior and has used a wheelchair since, is then lifted and carried into a police van – however he is not told of his charge before being lifted away and placed in the cell in the back of the vehicle.
Lawyers for Mr Hacking, who say he is the first person in modern times to be arrested for praying in the UK, say he was held for eight hours before being released on bail.
The case was handed on to the Crown Prosecution Service, who later sent Mr Hacking a letter confirming the charges had been dropped as there was not “enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction”.
A spokesperson for Marie Stopes said it was “disappointing“ Mr Hacking’s actions had not led to a conviction after wilfully flouting the protection order, designed to protect those using the service from harassment and intimidation.
They added: “Nobody should face harassment when accessing a legal, confidential health service, and the Safe Zone around the Marie Stopes west London clinic rightly prohibits a range of activities within 100m, including prayer.
“It is disappointing to see wilful non-compliance with the PSPO fail to result in prosecution, however, the Ealing Safe Zone remains a vital measure to ensure anyone accessing abortion services has consistent and necessary protection from intimidation and harassment, and we continue to call for similar protections to be introduced across the UK.”
A statement from the Metropolitan Police said: “A 29-year-old man was charged in August 2019 with failing to comply with a public space protection order following an incident in Ealing.“The matter was subsequently discontinued”.
It comes amid a renewed drive from pro-choice groups to have buffer zones implemented outside abortion clinics across the country.
The creation of protest-free areas outside abortion service providers was reviewed by Sajid Javid last year – with the former home secretary and current chancellor concluding the move “would not be a proportionate response”.
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