THE reason George Orwell is quoted so often these days is because two of his works, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, are effectively prophecies of the demented post-modern era in which we live.
Identity politics, the ugly US import which separates everyone into tribes competing for victim status, was surely anticipated in Animal Farm by the observation that ‘all animals are equal but some are more equal than others’. Likewise, Nineteen Eighty-Four gave the world the concept of Big Brother, which is now more or less a reality, as well as doublethink and newspeak. In modern Britain there are examples of these everywhere.
One of the most chilling of Orwell’s warnings was that of ‘thought crime’ or ‘crimethink’, offences kept in check by the ‘thought police’ or the ‘thinkpol’. Until now they have remained in the realm of fiction.
Following charges brought in December by West Midlands Police against Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, a pregnancy counsellor, and Father Sean Gough, a Wolverhampton-based Roman Catholic priest, the substance of Orwell’s dual masterpieces can no longer be considered portents of a dystopian age to come, but one which has now surely arrived.
What crimes were so heinous for three officers to arrest, search, detain and charge Ms Vaughan-Spruce and similarly demand the presence of Fr Gough at the police station before they charged him too?
Ms Vaughan-Spruce had admitted to them that she ‘might’ have been praying silently in her head outside a British Pregnancy Advisory Service abortion facility. A 150-metre ‘buffer’, or exclusion, zone had been imposed by Birmingham City Council around this clinic the previous month, making it a crime to seek to influence or harass anyone within the vicinity. The clinic was closed at the time, so no one, including any mind-readers, could have been influenced or harassed.
Fr Gough had his clerical collar felt after he stood in the same censorship zone, demarcated by a Public Spaces Protection Order designed to tackle extreme anti-social behaviour, silently holding up a placard which read: ‘Praying for Free Speech’.
The charges were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which last month threw them out on the grounds that there was no evidence that any crimes had been committed, but with a warning to the pair that should sufficient evidence later emerge the charges could be revived and they would be prosecuted.
This prompted Ms Vaughan-Spruce and Fr Gough to use their right to seek a verdict from Birmingham magistrates’ court about whether their actions were in any way criminal.
It was farcical to witness them in the dock yesterday. The CPS clearly did not want to know, declining to offer the slightest scrap of evidence to suggest any wrongdoing had been committed. District Judge David Wain summarily dismissed both cases in a matter of seconds. West Midlands Police surely offers each of these law-abiding citizens an apology, and they probably also deserve compensation.
Birmingham Council introduced a scheme which has immediately ensnared the innocent and is therefore unsafe. It should now scrap it without delay.
Outside the court Ms Vaughan-Spruce said: ‘I’m glad I’ve been completely vindicated of any wrongdoing but I should never have been arrested and treated like a criminal simply for silently praying on a public street.
‘After being arrested I was asked by the police what I was silently praying for. I told them I was praying for people like my friend Amy who was raped and became pregnant and was pressured into having an abortion which she deeply regretted, for people like Natalia who took the abortion pills then passed her baby at home and saw that child down the toilet which deeply traumatised her, for people like Kirsty who also passed her child at home, in her own bed and on lifting up the covers saw what she described as being like a scene from a horror movie.
‘This is where the true crime exists – women being sold the lie that abortion will solve their difficulties in pregnancy, that this is being endorsed by the government and that attempts to offer women alternatives are being described as either criminal or anti-social. What is profoundly anti-social is that it is still legal to deprive certain human beings of their most basic freedom, the freedom to live and that steps are now being taken to censor freedom of speech, freedom to offer help, freedom to pray and even freedom to think. We must stand firm against this and ensure that these most fundamental freedoms are protected and that all our laws reflect this.
‘I was arrested for my prayers because of a disproportionate and far reaching censorship zone . . . Nobody should be criminalised for offering help. Nobody should be criminalised for their prayers. Nobody should be criminalised for their thoughts.’
Fr Gough similarly expressed relief at having been cleared of all charges in connection with ‘intimidating service-users’ and observed that ‘whatever your views are on abortion we can all agree that a democratic country cannot be in the business of prosecuting thought crimes’.
He said: ‘I pray every day, everywhere I go. Prayer can never be a crime. This story isn’t over. If the government imposes censorship zones around every abortion facility in the country, as they are considering doing with the Public Order Bill currently under discussion, who knows how many more people will stand trial, even facing prison, for offering help or for praying in their minds?’
Fr Gough is right to be concerned about the hijacking of the Bill by pro-abortion activists in the Houses of Parliament under the nose of the Government, which pusillanimously granted free votes on amendments for a national rollout of punitive censorship zones instead of striking them out for what they were.
The latest of these was Amendment 45, which replaced the Clause 9 hijacking amendment. It was tabled by Conservative peer Baroness Sugg of Coldharbour and accepted at Report Stage in the House of Lords. It makes it a crime to influence ‘any person’s decision to access, provide or facilitate the provision of abortion services’.
It also makes it a criminal offence to cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress to any person in connection with a decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services’ within 150 metres of an abortion clinic.
The Lords on the same evening dismissed an altogether sensible amendment for a review by the Home Office to see what evidence justified such a draconian national intervention before imposing it.
The rejection of evidence means there is nothing new to add to the 2018 government review which found no examples of harassment, prompting Sajid Javid, then Home Secretary, to dismiss similar calls for national censorship zones.
The implication here is quite clear: evidence does not matter, but ideology does. This is surely an example of the most egregious form of law-making. It is the ‘my feeling don’t care about your facts’ mantra of Titania McGrath, the comic creation of Andrew Doyle, finding expression in Britain’s second political chamber. It is how dictatorships behave when they are at their worst.
The decision by Judge Wain yesterday does not set a precedent but at least it sends a message to our woker-than-woke police forces and council chiefs that for the moment they cannot criminalise innocent people for their thoughts.
It was indeed a good day for freedom, a moment when Britain once again held up a lantern to a world increasingly confused about simple issues of truth and justice, an echo of the country so many of us were proud to live in.
Yet unless there are those with the courage of Ms Vaughan-Spruce and Fr Gough to fight these battles, such victories may be short-lived.
The West needs to change its ways, and quickly. The police and the politicians in particular also ought to remember that Orwell’s books were written as warnings against totalitarianism rather than as manuals for how to implement tyranny, a point evidently too frequently missed.
‘Nobody should be criminalised for their prayers’: Father Sean Gough and Isabel Vaughan-Spruce after yesterday’s hearing