A 29-year old man, who is wheel-chair bound, has had charges dropped against him after being arrested for publicly praying at an abortion clinic.
Christian Hacking became the first person arrested by UK police for praying in public.
Police bodycam footage shows officers accosting Christian Hacking after he was spotted praying quietly on the grass outside a Marie Stopes abortion clinic. It was alleged that he was in breach of the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), which prohibits prayer or counselling within 100 meters of such clinics.
Mr Hacking, who has used a wheelchair after breaking his back in a 2014 accident, said he would continue praying regardless of the PSPO. He told BBC Radio 4 that he was aware that some 7,000 abortions had been carried out at the clinic, run by Marie Stopes in Ealing. In 214 of those cases the baby was past 20th week gestation. “When I saw it [the clinic] with my own eyes, my heart broke,” he said. “I did what I knew best in that situation, I started praying.”
Officers asked Hacking if he would prefer to walk to the nearby police van himself, to which he responded: “If this is the cost of praying in a free nation, so be it. If this is the cost of praying for vulnerable children, if this is what you’re going to do to people who pray for vulnerable children…that’s all I’ve done, I haven’t done anything wrong other than pray.”
He was subsequently arrested and carried to the back of a riot van by four police officers.
Hacking pleaded not guilty, and was facing trial on November 5th of this year. However, police had failed to caution Mr. Hacking before his arrest, which was contrary to regular procedure. This, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), “undermined the prosecution case”.
The CPS subsequently sent Hacking a letter informing him that the charges against him were to be dropped because there was not “enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction”.
The Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which represented Mr Hacking, said that the footage of officers “carrying a disabled man and his wheelchair to a riot van, simply for praying, is deeply disturbing”. It also criticised what it described as the waste of “vital police resources” after charges were dropped.
A Marie Stopes spokesperson said: “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.”
However, Mr Hacking told BBC that Christians had a right to pray at abortion clinics and to act in accordance with their conscience. “I would challenge how democratic the system has become if there are patches of land where Christians cannot pray to their God,” he said. “Vegans are staging vigils outside abattoirs in Guildford and other places, they are allowed to do that by law provided they don’t enter or trespass, yet somehow abortion providers have persuaded councils to do their dirty work for them and to prevent freedom of expression acts from happening outside their front yard.”