Scotland Yard has apologised for using a draconian "riot law" to prevent a prayer vigil outside an abortion clinic.
A small group from Good Counsel Network, a Roman Catholic organisation, hand out leaflets outside a British Pregnancy Advisory Service clinic in Twickenham. Police used strongly-worded Section 14 Public Order Act notices, commonly used to disperse rioters and football hooligans, and forced them to continue their vigil across the road, where they could not speak to women attending the clinic.
Justyna Pasek said she felt like a criminal. "We pray and hand out leaflets," she said. "We speak to women who want to speak to us. We don't chase after women, we don't stop anyone going into the clinic, and we never block the gates.
"The officers were aggressive and I felt harassed and mistreated. I thought this was a free country, but this reminds me of the Communist rule I used to live under in Poland."
A police spokesman said: "We now acknowledge that the implementation of Section 14 notices was incorrect. The Metropolitan Police service respects the right to lawful assembly and freedom of speech. But we will respect the rights of others not to be intimidated."
"It is bitterly ironic," said Christian Medical Fellowship chief executive officer Peter Saunders, "at a time when doctors involved in sex-selection abortions or illegal pre-signing are not being prosecuted, that police are instead misusing the law to intimidate peaceful protesters.
"It is a reminder that police can themselves be affected by societal prejudice in their judgments and of how commonplace abortion has become.
"It seems not to matter what the law says. Whilst those who blatantly disregard the Abortion Act get off scot free, those who protest risk police intimidation and arrest."