London: charges dropped against pro-life campaigner

 A charge of 'outraging public decency' against a pro-life campaigner who displayed images of aborted unborn children in a protest against abortion, has been dropped today in Southwark Crown Court, after the Crown Prosecution Service offered no evidence. Kevin O'Neill, 30, who was originally arrested on 21 November last year, said that his immediate reaction was one of relief but also surprise. Kevin O'Neill, a practising Catholic who lives within the Archdiocese of Southwark, has been supported by the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, Most Rev Kevin McDonald, who has met and corresponded with him on a number of occasions. On hearing the charge against him had been dropped, Archbishop McDonald said: "I am delighted Kevin has been cleared of all charges. The fact that the law might find pictures of aborted foetuses obscene and offensive simply proves the validity of Kevin's protest against abortion." Mr O'Neill said: "The tension has finally gone. I've been running on adrenaline up to now. My immediate reaction is one of relief, but also surprise. The CPS had led us to believe that they intended to go all the way. "My first feeling after being arrested was shock, and when the charges were changed - particularly to ones of such an offensive nature - I became angry. As it has dragged on for so long, I've had to accommodate myself emotionally to the situation because, otherwise, thinking about the injustice would have driven me crazy." Mr O'Neill added: "As I said to the police in response to being charged the first time, children have no voice with which to speak against what is done to them under the Abortion Act. The only testimony they can give is that of their actual, visible suffering, as conveyed through the medium of photographs. It is an extremely poignant testimony which cries out for mercy. And, as I also said to the police, if the photographic evidence were not so convincing, they themselves could not have brought these twisted charges. "While this has been a very difficult time for me personally, the real tragedy is that for each and every day since I was first arrested, 500 more unborn babies have been added to the terrible abortion toll in Britain. "In our protest in November, we included six posters of aborted babies, one for each million killed under the Abortion Act since it was passed in 1967. We wished to acknowledge our collective guilt for this horror, and to pray for a spirit of national reform and repentance. Every adult British citizen shares responsibility for our culture which allows abortion, and we were praying for forgiveness for those sins of ours which have contributed to this culture." Mr O'Neill was first arrested under the Public Order Act on 21 November 2003 in the course of a demonstration against abortion which he had organised in the City of London. It was the second month in a row that a demonstration had taken place in that location, and all the necessary clearances had been obtained. He was taken to Bishopsgate Police Station, detained for three hours in a cell, and later released on police bail without charge. However, on 24 January, after again being kept in detention for three hours, he was charged by the Crown Prosecution Service with an offence under the Indecent Displays Act (1981), and told to attend the City of London Magistrates Court on 30 January. On this occasion, the magistrates decided that they were not competent to try the case because of the 'novel' use of the 1981 Act, and it was referred for Crown Court trial. The CPS submitted the prosecution case 'bundle' at the Magistrate's Court on 25 March, and stated that the charge had now been changed to a Common Law offence of Outraging Public Decency. After an adjournment requested by the defence to consider this new charge, Mr O'Neill appeared again before the Magistrate's Court on 6 April, when he was formally discharged from the original charge and charged instead with having "committed an act of a lewd, obscene and disgusting nature and outraging public decency by displaying images of aborted and dissected foetuses". He was ordered to appear before Southwark Crown Court on 27 April to answer the new charge, which was only able to be tried in a Crown Court. The pre-trial hearing was set for 25 May at Southwark Crown Court, and the CPS refused to withdraw the charge when asked to by the defence in light of the screening of the Channel 4 documentary 'My Foetus'. On 24 May the defence applied to the Crown Court for an adjournment so that an application could be made to the Attorney General to have the prosecution halted, and this was granted with a new date set for the hearing of 11 June. The hearing was then further delayed until 9 July, owing to delays in the application to the Attorney General. Finally, on 9 July, and before any decision from the Attorney General's office could be made, Mr O'Neill appeared at Southwark Crown Court to be told that the CPS was offering no evidence and that the charge was to be dropped. He was cleared of committing any offence, and is now discussing possible future action with his solicitor. Source CCS

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