Anti-abortion campaigner appeals against ban on shocking foetus poster in Walthamstow Town Square

An anti-abortion campaigner forbidden from displaying large photos of foetuses in Waltham Forest is appealing in court to overturn the ban.

Christian Hacking, 29, appeared at Stratford Magistrates’ Court for the second day today challenging a Community Protection Notice (CPN) issued by Waltham Forest Council.

It was issued to him by a council officer at a demonstration on October 3 last year in which a 3 metre square photo of an aborted 24-week-old foetus was put up in Walthamstow Town Square.

Waltham Forest Council argued displaying this image was “unreasonable behaviour” with a “detrimental effect” on others and said it received a number of complaints from the public. 

Mr Hacking is an employee the Centre for Bioethical Reform UK (CBR UK), which organised a number of demonstrations against local MP Stella Creasy after her amendment extending abortion rights to Northern Ireland.

Witness Mandy Baker, who was shoe-shopping with her 10-year-old daughter at the time, told the court: “I felt physically sick, anxious and horrified. 

“It is not something I wanted my daughter to see and she was clearly anxious as well. Those are the types of images that would stop me visiting my own town square.”

Another witness, Lesley Finlayson, said: “I totally agree with that campaign but it’s not about that, that image was wrong.

“It was used to cause anger and cause upset in my community. It seems over the top, the size of them, they were the size of a person, it was vile.”

The council’s lawyer Ms Kurjit Bhogal told Mr Hacking: “People do not have a choice whether or not they look at these images, they are three metres by three metres, in colour and bloody.

“You have no way of knowing if there are people passing by who have had an abortion or a miscarriage. You can well understand why people might be caused upset.

“No one has stopped you from talking to people, handing out leaflets or being present in the location. The only thing the council stopped you from doing is using large images or photos.”

On October 3, the court heard council Mr Hacking was given a warning to remove the banners within 15 minutes after the crowd became agitated.

When he failed to do so, he was issued with a CPN. Both banners were taken down and temporarily confiscated by officers, which the council now accepts was illegal. 

Anti-social behaviour service delivery manager Philip Connor said: “I made the decision I felt was best for the safety of everyone there. That was as feisty a space as I have seen professionally, people were evidently upset. 

“If the images had continued to have been shown publicly, I think the situation would have continued to escalate.

“I have a duty to protect people’s physical and mental health. It was not a case of who shouts loudest. We have a statutory duty to tackle behaviour likely to cause alarm or distress.

“There were numerous further demonstrations after the event and on many of those occasions we took no action because we respect their freedom of speech.”

Responding to CBR UK’s claim they put up notices warning people of graphic abortion photos, Mr Connor said he could “state categorically” none were present on the day.

Mr Hacking and his lawyer Michael Phillips argued banning him from displaying such images restricts his freedom of expression.

Mr Hacking told the court: “The image is disgusting but what we are showing the constituents of Walthamstow is the brutality of Stella Creasy’s position on abortion.

“Images have always had great power to change hearts and minds on issues. If we were to stop displaying our images because a few people do not like them that would effectively prevent society at large from engaging with the uncomfortable truth.”

Mr Phillips said: “Police did not tell anybody that they were acting unlawfully on that day.

“Distress in and of itself is not an offence. Sometimes people’s distress can be irrational or, even if it is rational, it does not make something unlawful.”

After hearing submissions from both sides, Judge Johnathon Radway will make his decision at a later date.

The offending poster. The YA has blurred out the image of the foetus as we consider it too upsetting and utterly gratuitous

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter