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Council admits ‘not enough evidence’ to ban prayer vigils


A London council has admitted it does not have enough evidence to justify banning prayer vigils outside an abortion clinic.

Southwark Borough Council had voted unanimously in November to look into creating a so-called “buffer zone” around the Blackfriars Medical Practice in Colombo Street, which contains an abortion clinic run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).

However, Councillor Barrie Hargrove, the cabinet member for communities, safety and leisure delivered an update on Tuesday, admitting: “At the moment we don’t have the extent of evidence … to bring in a Public Space Protection Order.”

He explained that the most recent report of pro-life activity outside the clinic was from January 2017.

Despite this, he added: “Something really does need to be done about it,” and claimed he had seen videos of “unpleasant and unacceptable harassment of vulnerable people” outside the clinic.

The SE1 website says council leader Peter John has suggested that wardens could monitor the situation outside the clinic.

Liberal Democrat Councillor David Noakes, who tabled the original motion in November, said: “I welcome the cabinet’s support about the protests outside the BPAS clinic and appreciate the need for an evidence base for consideration of a PSPO.

“I will be writing to Cllr Hargrove suggesting a working group to ensure the strong support of residents and Blackfriars Medical Practice staff and patients for action on this issue is followed up by the council.”

Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs), which were introduced in 2014, have been criticised for handing local councils too much power and allowing them to criminalise “public activities that are merely considered unusual or unpopular, or with which the council disagree.”