First time in Northern Ireland - man and woman criminalised for praying

  • First time in Northern Ireland - man and woman criminalised for praying

A mother of four and a disabled man have become the first people to be branded as criminals for praying in public. Their so-called ‘crime’ was praying outside a Coleraine abortion centre in October.

In the first case of its kind in Northern Ireland, Claire Brennan and David Hall were jointly charged with two offences at Coleraine Magistrates Court under the draconian ‘exclusion zones’ law. This law was passed by the SDLP, Sinn Fein, UUP, Green Party, and PBP to criminalise women and men who pray within 250 metres of an abortion centre, and punishable by fines up to £2500.

Claire and David’s so-called ‘offences’ were; being outside the baby-killing centre at the Causeway hospital on October 3 last year “with the intention, or being reckless as to whether, it would have the effect of influencing” a person attending the centre, and failing to comply with a police order to leave.

A prosecuting lawyer outlined how police had been called to the abortion centre because two people were within the exclusion zone.

Claire and David were arrested when police officers found an pro-life sign on display and ordered them to leave. However Claire and David stated they were “morally obligated” to be there.

In court, Claire stated she was “not guilty” of the two 'offences'.

David, who was unbale to attend the court, was represented pro-bono by CARLIN SOLICITORS.

Under the exclusion zones legislation, David could have been punished by a £2500 fine for praying outside the abortion centre.  But thanks to the diligent work of CARLIN SOLICITORS, David’s fines were reduced to £250.

His defence solicitor Aidan Carlin explained that David was unable to attend as he was currently an inpatient in hospital. Lodging a plea in mitigation on behalf of David, Mr. Carlin said he has a “complicated background” and added “my client has mobility issues ... he is confined to a wheelchair”. Mr. Carlin also pointed out that “no particular person complained” about David praying outside the centre.

Commenting that “this is the first time there has been a prosecution of this nature before the court,” the Judge said he was imposing fines totalling £250 along with a £15 offender levy.

In relation to Claire Brennan, the judge adjourned her case to 31 May.

Since their names appeared in the media following the court case, Claire and David have faced a barrage of online abuse, and harassment at their own homes. David has now been forced to install CCTV at his home.

The ‘Sunday Life’ newspaper published a photo of Claire with the headline “Pictured: First woman in NI charged over abortion protest”, and labelled her a "Christian Fanatic".

Sunday Life reporter and ‘sensationalised-story fanatic’ John Toner, tracked her down to her family home in the countryside and confronted her on her doorstep. A photographer from the newspaper also snapped pictures of her in her doorway.

Claire bravely refused to answer any of his questions and told him that any discussion would only be through her legal team.

Claire will be back in court on May 31 to fight for her rights to freedom and expression of religion.

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