The Christian Legal Centre is behind some of the most tragic cases in the British courts helping parents fight against hospitals in life support cases. Who are they – and what do they want?
Why this story?
The heartbreaking case of Archie Battersbee in 2022 was the latest example of a family fighting in court against medical staff who wanted to withdraw life support from their child.
The case highlighted a deeply personal trauma for the family, but it also felt very familiar – the same arguments had been fought over before with a different family and a different hospital when a boy called Alfie Evans was critically ill. And in the shadows of each case was the Christian Legal Centre, funding legal support for parents who wanted medical care to continue.
We wanted to know who’s behind the religious group, how are they funded, and what are they trying to achieve? David Taylor, Editor
Tom Evans, in facebook video: Here I am. Where’s Daddy? I haven’t seen them eyes open in a couple of days now. Where am I? There I am. Hello, buddy. Hello. Daddy’s here, Alf.
Rachel Ellis, narrating: I’m watching a video uploaded to Facebook. It’s of a man called Tom Evans, and he’s looking down at his baby son Alfie, in a hospital bed.
Tom Evans, in facebook video: Give us a kiss. Where are my kisses?
Rachel, narrating: As the toddler’s eyelids flicker open, Tom’s tone changes.
Tom Evans, in facebook video: Where are my kisses? Where are my kisses? Keep them open. Keep them open.
Rachel, narrating: There’s desperation in Tom’s voice as he wills his son to just keep his eyes open.
Tom Evans, in facebook video: Open them back up. There he is!
Woman in facebook video: Well done.
Tom Evans, in facebook video: Where’s daddy? There I am!
5 News presenter: Over time Alfie’s mystery condition has worsened…
Rachel, narrating: At one point, it felt like Tom and Alfie’s story was everywhere.
5 News presenter: …recent scans show the ongoing damage to Alfie’s brain is significant…
Rachel, narrating: In December 2016, when Alfie was seven months old, he started suffering seizures and was admitted to the famous Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. There, he was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological condition, and had to be kept alive on ventilation. His parents – Tom Evans and Kate James – clashed with the hospital over what should happen to Alfie. A year went by and in December 2017, Alfie’s doctors said they wanted to turn off the life support machine that was keeping him alive – they said it wasn’t in his best interests. But his parents, Tom and Kate, wanted to take him abroad for further treatment. They couldn’t find a way forward, and so the hospital asked a judge to decide what should happen to Alfie. The case went to court.
Tom Evans, outside court: From where we stand now on Thursday we’ve been accepted to put an appeal in by four o’clock…
Rachel, narrating: Alfie’s parents faced months of legal struggles. Aged just 20 and 21, they ended up representing themselves in court after ‘parting company‘ with their solicitors. Then in April 2018, four months after the legal case started, help came along from a new source. A middle-aged Russian man called Pavel Stroilov began to advise the family in court. He was working with an organisation that could pay for a barrister and would try to help save Alfie. By this point, a High Court judge had already ruled that Alfie’s life support should be removed. That meant one thing; he would die. But that was unacceptable to Alfie’s parents, and to Pavel Stroilov. With his assistance, a plan was developed to get Alfie Italian citizenship so he could be moved to a hospital in Rome for treatment.
Pavel Stroilov, outside court: Just want to inform you that Italy has just granted citizenship to Alfie. And the Italian ambassador…
Rachel, narrating: Pavel Stroilov told the family they were within their rights to remove Alfie from the UK hospital where he was being treated. It must have sounded like a lifeline. Tom Evans, Alfie’s dad, posted a video on Facebook, waving a letter from Stroilov in front of the camera.
Tom Evans, in facebook video: Look what I have in front of me, I have a documentation that says I have the right to take my son out of the hospital.
Rachel, narrating: But with the Italian medical team on standby to collect Alfie, it all went wrong.
Tom Evans, outside Alder Hey hospital: We removed duty of care from all the doctors at Alder Hey and we handed the new duty of care to the new medical team that were ready to take Alfie. The alarm was pulled, and the police were alerted, and within a matter of 15, 20 minutes, I had three police officers around the bedside telling me that Alfie was a ward of court and they’d been notified that by the hospital, and if I was to touch my son I’d be arrested for assault.
Rachel, narrating: The advice that Pavel Stroilov had given Tom Evans – that he could remove Alfie from hospital and take him to Italy, or give him into the care of an Italian medical team – it wasn’t right. It was bad legal advice. Pavel Stroilov then encouraged Alfie’s parents to launch a private prosecution for murder against Alder Hey doctors if Alfie died at the hospital. The High Court judge hearing the case said in his view this man who was meant to be helping the family, had a ‘malign hand’. Speaking in court, the judge called Pavel Stroilov ‘fanatical and deluded’. And he delivered this damning judgement.
Voice actor: Today’s efforts by Mr. Stroilov were equally inconsistent with the real interests of the parents’ case. The Witness Statement is littered with vituperation and bile, critical of those who have done so much to help Alfie, attacking the system generally and the Court in particular.
Rachel, narrating: The judge asked what qualifications Pavel Stroilov had. The answer was… none. He told the judge he was a law student. Outside the court, he had introduced himself to journalists.
Journalist, outside court: Your name, sir?
Pavel Stroilov, outside court: Pavel Stroilov.
Journalist, outside court: How do you spell that please?
Pavel Stroilov, outside court: Stroilov, S T R O I L O V.
Journalist, outside court: And you are from?
Pavel Stroilov, outside court: Christian Legal Centre.
Rachel, narrating: I’m Rachel Ellis. I’ve been reporting on health issues for more than 25 years, and these ‘right to life’ cases are some of the most upsetting I’ve ever covered. For years, I have watched as families and hospitals go to battle over the fate of terminally ill children. And I want to understand why.
You’re listening to the Slow Newscast from Tortoise. And in this episode, God On Your Side, I investigate the Christian Legal Centre, and ask, are they turning British courts into a battleground, and using vulnerable families in these cases to pursue their own agenda?
EWTN Presenter: …who has been in a semi vegetative state. British doctors have said further medical efforts are futile…
Saira Khan, on Loose Women: And it’s a year did you say that this little boy’s been in hospital?
Rebekah Vardy, on Loose Women: That’s right, yeah…
Rachel, narrating: In April 2018, after the court said life support could be withdrawn, Alfie Evans died, just a month before his second birthday.
ITV News presenter: Alfie Evans was in hospital for most of his short life. Four days ago he was disconnected from life support, and for four days he breathed unassisted. But this morning his mother published a statement on social media which read, ‘Our baby boy grew his wings tonight at 2:30am. We are heartbroken. Thank you everyone for all your support.’
Rachel, narrating: In 2022, four years after Alfie Evans died, a similar case went to court – this time involving a 12 year old boy called Archie Battersbee.
Sky News presenter: Archie has been in a coma since being found in April with a ligature over his head. Doctors say Archie is brain stem dead and say continued life support is not in his best interests. His family have been fighting that decision through the court and say Archie’s treatment must continue.
Rachel, narrating: Archie’s case is fought in the courts for more than three months. And once again, it plays out against a backdrop of intense media scrutiny, and really emotional, often aggressive running commentary on social media. It was a unique family tragedy, but the arguments all felt very familiar. The medical establishment was saying that it was no longer in Archie’s best interest to be kept alive – that there was no chance of recovery. Again, there were anguished parents clinging to hope. And in their corner, lawyers, arguing that it should not be up to doctors to decide the moment of death. And I had this moment where I suddenly joined the dots. I realised that the very same group – the Christian Legal Centre – was working in the background of this case, too.
Neena Modi: What is the real reason for people doing this? Is it to pursue their own interests rather than actually be supportive to a family that is grieving, is lost, is bewildered, and is grasping at straws?
Rachel, narrating: Four years on from Alfie Evans, there were familiar faces in the courtroom for the Archie Battersbee case. There’s a man called Bruno Quintavalle, an independent barrister who’d been part of the legal team for the Alfie Evans family, paid for by the Christian Legal Centre. There’s the same High Court judge, Mr Justice Hayden. He’s the one who called Pavel Stroilov ‘fanatical and deluded’ four years earlier. And for some reason, there’s Pavel Stroilov himself. Despite his public dressing down by the judge for giving bad legal advice and unrealistic hope to the Evans family, he’s there, still working for the Christian Legal Centre. And finally, also in court, there’s the founder of the Christian Legal Centre – Andrea Williams – a barrister and life-long Christian campaigner. She’s spent her career fighting on many fronts – against things like abortion, homosexuality, and same sex marriage. She set up the Christian Legal Centre and its parent organisation Christian Concern in 2007. Its website says its role is to provide legal support ‘for those taking a stand for Jesus’. But is that what the parents want, too? To take a stand for Jesus? Or just to get a final chance for the life of their child?
Good Morning Britain presenter: The parents of Archie Battersbee have been fighting a relentless battle to keep their son on life support after he was found unconscious at home in April…
Rachel, narrating: In the end, the court decides that keeping life support on is not in Archie Battersbee’s best interests. And in August 2022, it’s withdrawn, and he dies.
Hollie Dance: Archie passed at 12.15 today. And can I just say I am the proudest mum in the world. Such a beautiful little boy.
Rachel, narrating: On the day of Archie’s funeral, Andrea Williams films a video, which I find on Christian Concern’s youtube channel.
Andrea Williams, in YouTube video: Tuesday the 13th of September. Today we have remembered the life of precious Archie Paul Battersbee born on the 10th of March 2010, who is now with Jesus. The church behind me was absolutely packed….
Rachel, narrating: Andrea’s standing outside the church just after Archie’s funeral. She looks pretty glamorous – she usually does. Today she’s in a black silk blouse. Her nails have been painted bright red, and in her hands, she’s clutching the order of service with Archie’s face on it. And she’s using the occasion as a media opportunity – a backdrop for a speech.
Andrea, in YouTube video: … we were contending to give this child the very best chance at life…
Rachel, narrating: The video cuts between Andrea doing her piece to camera, and footage of the coffin being walked out of the church towards the graveyard.
Andrea, in YouTube video: …we must guard in our society against becoming a society that says we can order death at a moment in time that works …
Rachel, narrating: To me, it feels pretty inappropriate. Like she’s using the funeral as a moment to make a point.
Andrea, in YouTube video: …so that we don’t think that we can become the arbiters of when death should occur…
Rachel, narrating: So what is the Christian Legal Centre pursuing? Andrea Williams says they wanted Archie to be given the very best chance at life, but the court heard that his body was failing, that the medical evidence was overwhelming. So what is the law? The legal focus in Britain is all about what’s in the patient’s best interests – whether that means they live or die. The courts make it clear that ‘no life is to be relinquished easily,’ and the law is strongly in favour of prolonging life where possible. But Andrea Williams doesn’t believe the courts should help doctors decide the moment of death at all. She believes in sanctity of life until its natural end; in God’s way, in God’s time.
Andrea Williams still runs Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre, 16 years after setting them up. They have an elegant HQ on Wimpole Street in central London, not far from Harley Street. Andrea is the one employing law student Pavel Stroilov, and sending him into court. And looking into his background brings up even more surprises. A book about the way the law works in Britain described Pavel Stroilov as ‘roaming the legal wastelands’ armed with ‘bogus advice and servicing shadowy third party interests’. Stroilov used to work as an adviser to Gerrard Batten, the leader of UKIP – they even wrote a book together on English sovereignty, several years before Brexit. And Pavel Stroilov wrote another book of what he said was ‘Secret Archives Stolen from the Kremlin,’ which was reviewed as ‘full of nonsense’.. and ‘conspiracy theories.’ So if Andrea Williams is really thinking about the best interests of the parents and the child, why is she sending this wild card in, to work with them? Remember, he was branded ‘fanatical and deluded’ by a judge.
Andrea Williams, in Christian Concern video: Christian Concern is passionate about seeing the love, justice, truth, freedom and hope of Jesus at the heart of society. We know that Jesus is Lord of all. That doesn’t just mean in our personal lives but in our churches, in the courts, on the television and in Parliament.
Rachel, narrating: As I started digging in to the Christian Legal Centre, I discovered that they care about far more than just right to life cases. And I think that gives us some clues about their motivation for fighting them – because the cases deliver publicity for an organisation partly funded by donations, which is picking a lot of fights. If you scroll through their website you’ll find videos about a lot of different cases they’ve fought.
Dr David Mackereth in Christian Concern video: Four years ago I was sacked from being a doctor working for the Department for Work and Pensions because I wouldn’t use trangender pronouns.
Rachel, narrating: They fight cases to support people who are anti-trans, anti-lgbt.
Pastor Keith Waters in Christian Concern video: You don’t have to look very far, to google Pride events. I don’t feel I was treated fairly…
Rachel, narrating: People who are anti-abortion, anti-sex education in schools.
40 Days for Life Birmingham representative in Christian Concern video: We want to challenge this public space protection order so that we can actually get back outside the abortion centre offering real help to women who are in crisis pregnancy situations…
Rachel, narrating: And people who are anti-Islam.
Hatun Tash in Christian Concern video: Those people don’t know Jesus. People are dying without knowing they are forgiven.
Rachel, narrating: In all these cases, they say they’re fighting for ‘religious freedom.’ And they’re not just fighting in the legal system. The Christian Legal Centre is one of three ‘ministries’ that come under the umbrella organisation of Christian Concern, which is a not-for-profit organisation. The other two ministries are the Wilberforce Academy, which runs one-week residential courses to train and prepare young adults for what it calls ‘servant-hearted, Christ-centred leadership’ in public life. And there’s Wilberforce Publications, which publishes religious books. Then there’s the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice, which says it doesn’t practise conversion therapy, but offers support to people who it claims no longer want to be gay. All of these organisations are also linked to a charity called Faith, Truth and Hope. It’s a big network. All the organisations are registered to the same Wimpole Street townhouse as the Christian Legal Centre. And Andrea Williams is involved in them all.
It’s a bit of a jigsaw, but here’s how the network seems to piece together. Money comes in to Faith, Truth and Hope which is a private charitable company – its income comes from ‘several hundred donors,’ but we don’t know who they are. Public documents show that in the last five years, Faith, Truth and Hope made donations of at least £1.7 million to Christian Concern. I can see that Christian Concern employed 19 people in 2021, and it appears to directly fund the cases taken on by the Christian Legal Centre. In 2016 I can see that Andrea Williams drew a £45,000 salary from CLC. And I know that one barrister, Paul Diamond, who was involved in the Alfie Evans case received £8,000 a month from the CLC for religious liberties advocacy. So where is this money coming from? And what’s it really funding?
People who have looked at Christian Concern and its connected organisations assume it’s partly backed by money from American evangelicals. There is no public proof of that, but I found a number of links to a group called the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is a really significant force in the US – in the courts, and in public life. ADF has an annual budget of $65,000,000, employs 40 lawyers and in 2022 it had an absolutely seismic legal win.
CNN Presenter: And the supreme court has overturned Roe v Wade, they have eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion…
Rachel, narrating: The ADF were behind a case that led the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade, the ruling that protected American women’s abortion rights for half a century. They find cases which help them challenge the state’s right to tell Christians how to behave in public life. Sound familiar? What they call religious freedom is often the freedom for Christians to discriminate against gay customers, or same sex marriage. I know that some of the lawyers working for the CLC have also worked for ADF International. Public records show that Christian Concern’s Wilberforce Academy – those residential courses training young Christians – well, that was set up in partnership with ADF. And through ADF international, they are backing cases in the European Court of Human Rights – in at least one case, alongside the Christian Legal Centre. In 2020, ADF International spent $4,300,000 in Europe on grants and donations to European Christian groups and what it calls ‘human rights legal work’ – including ‘right to life’ cases. What becomes clear in my reporting is that there is a global Christian network, using the courts to allege that Christians are persecuted and that their faith outweighs other people’s equality rights. In both the Alfie Evans and Archie Battersbee cases, once the Christian Legal Centre gets in the middle, the language gets more emotive and relations between medical staff and families get worse. And you see this in Pavel Stroilov’s suggestion that doctors looking after Alfie Evans should be prosecuted for murder. This idea certainly played well with the right-wing media – and attracted attention in the US. This was on Fox News.
Fox News guest: Yes this is murder, this is absolutely murder, they are actively killing this child..
Rachel, narrating: And Tom Evans, Alfie’s dad, was pushing that narrative too.
Tom Evans, outside court: My son is two years of age and he’s been sentenced to the death penalty, how wrong is that?
Rachel, narrating: Tom Evans uploaded a Facebook video of him encouraging people to come and protest and get the hospital “to release our son.” as if he was a prisoner rather than a patient. The people who’d begun to support the Evanses, calling themselves ‘Alfie’s Army’ latched on to it. They started to gather outside Alder Hey hospital, where Alfie was being treated.
Supporters outside hospital: “We shall not, we shall not be moved”
Rachel, narrating: There are even videos of police officers protecting the entrance of the hospital. I understand how the families want support, but it feels to me like there’s a lot of anger and emotion too that ramps up after the CLC gets involved. Is that what these families need, while the fate of their child is in the balance? Is it helpful for the discussions to centre around phrases like ‘death penalties’ and ‘choreographed execution’?
Neena Modi: I think that what I have seen of the Christian Legal Centre’s interventions have not been helpful.
Rachel, narrating: This is Neena Modi. She’s a professor of neonatal medicine at Imperial College London.
Neena: They’ve not been helpful because they have further eroded the trust that we try very hard to build between families and clinical teams.
Rachel, narrating: Most cases like this that Neena has seen have not gone to court. But they are still devastating for all involved – including the doctors.
Neena: And no clinical person goes to work wanting to harm a patient. They go to work genuinely wanting to do the best they can for that patient. But of course this brings us to another fundamental misunderstanding or problem in these issues, and that is that some sections of society do to this day find it very difficult to accept that sometimes death is the best outcome.
Rachel, narrating: Among the options offered to them, families are asked if they’d like to see a hospital chaplain, or bring in a minister from their faith to join in the discussions.
Neena: I have never, ever been in a situation where the religious representative has not been a fantastic mediator. Has not helped the family understand that really we’ve reached the limits of what medicine can offer.
Rachel: So it just shows that, you know, it’s not the religion itself that’s the problem. It’s the way it’s handled, that seems to be what you are saying?
Neena Modi: That’s absolutely what I’m saying. It contrasts very, very starkly with the hugely adversarial breakdown of trust that we’ve seen engendered through the input of organisations such as the Christian Legal Centre.
Rachel, narrating: As well as these options, professional mediation should be offered to parents who find themselves in this situation, to stop the cases being escalated to court. Because if it does get there, parents can feel that the whole system is stacked against them, and that they don’t have many options left. I really want to talk to Andrea Williams. How do these ‘end of life’ cases fit into all of the other issues she’s fighting, and why is Stroilov still in the picture working with distressed families?
[sound of footsteps]
Rachel, narrating: My emails to Andrea at the CLC had gone unanswered for weeks. So my producer and I decide to pay the offices a visit, to see if she happens to be in.
Hannah Varrall, producer: Ready?
Rachel: I think so. As ready as I’ll ever be.
Rachel, narrating: We’d been expecting to speak to someone through the intercom, but a friendly young woman comes to the door.
CLC receptionist: Hello?
Rachel: Hi, yes, I am from, uh, my name’s Rachel Ellis. I’m from Tortoise.
CLC receptionist: Yes.
Rachel, narrating: We’re told Andrea isn’t available.
CLC receptionist: No, she’s actually really, really busy today…
Rachel, narrating: We try another approach.
Rachel, narrating: I’ve been given Pavel Stroilov’s phone number by a fellow journalist.
Pavel Stroilov: Hello?
Rachel: Oh hello is that Pavel Stroilov?
Rachel: Hello my name’s Rachel Ellis…
Rachel, narrating: But he doesn’t want to say yes without checking with the CLC – and presumably, Andrea.
Pavel: I just need to think about this, take advice and actually…
Rachel, narrating: They’re being evasive. But I’m persisting because I think there’s such a big public interest in hearing from them. They’re putting themselves in the middle of these difficult cases, and people have a right to know why they’re fighting them. Is it really just about the sanctity of life? Or does the attention gained from these cases get the CLC more support, and more donations?
Reverend Dr Malcolm Brown: So the Christian Legal Centre, Christian Concern represent one end, I suppose, of the spectrum of views within the Church of England. Conservative evangelical, I think they would accept that definition…
Rachel, narrating: This is the Reverend Dr Malcolm Brown from the Church of England. I spoke to him because I wanted to find out if the Church is worried by the behaviour of the Christian Legal Centre.
Malcolm: There is nothing in anything I’ve ever heard the Christian Legal Centre or Christian Concern say that puts them theologically outside the Church of England’s family, as I put it. In terms of some of the stances they take in public, we’ve no plebiscite to tell us what is the mainstream view of members of the Church of England. But my guess is that this is not a majority view, but it is a legitimate view, I think.
Rachel, narrating: In other words, the CLC views are Christian, but they’re not speaking for most Christians in this country.
Malcolm: The difficulty, of course, is that many Christians who do have strong views believe that they are, so to speak, the only authentic voice of Christians.
Rachel, narrating: The Church might think of the CLC as a very vocal minority, but they are really worried about their influence. As I’ve spoken to more and more sources for this investigation, I’ve discovered that there’s been at least one very high level meeting between the Church of England and senior judiciary about the actions of the CLC. And in a really significant move, the Church of England is actually opposing the CLC in a legal case that it’s currently fighting. It involves a teaching assistant called Kristie Higgs who was sacked for sharing transphobic posts on Facebook. The CLC are arguing that it’s a religious freedom case – that Kristie should be free to post those things, and should keep her job. But the church publicly says it ‘welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people.’ The Church is obviously worried that people will think the CLC view represents all Christians. It feels like they’re trying to control a troublesome relative at a family gathering.
While I’m trying to convince Andrea to talk to me, my producer spots an event run by Wilberforce Publications which we hope she’ll be attending. It’s a public event – a book launch – so we buy tickets. We want Andrea to tell us why they fight these cases, and what they get out of them.
Rachel: I think it’s either the next street or the street after…
Rachel, narrating: The book’s called ‘Questions to Ask Your Muslim Friends,’ and it provides the reader with a series of questions and points to ask Muslims. Things like, ‘does it bother you that Jesus performed multiple miracles whereas Muhammed didn’t perform any?’
Hannah, producer: I’ve got the QR code…
Rachel, narrating: It’s all designed to help them argue that Christianity is better than Islam.
CLC employee: Do you go to a church in London?
Rachel: No, we’re kind of researching…
Rachel, narrating: About 100 people are there in a church hall not far from Andrea’s offices.
Hannah, producer: Um, there she is.
Rachel, narrating: We spot her straight away. She’s already talking to someone so we get a drink and hang around nearby.
Rachel: Hi Andrea can I introduce myself, I’m Rachel Ellis. I emailed you…
Rachel, narrating: Andrea doesn’t seem pleased to see us. But she chats to us for ten minutes or so, before going up on stage to introduce the event.
Andrea Williams: It’s there because we love our Muslim neighbours…
Rachel, narrating: We sit through the next 60 minutes, hoping it will be worthwhile. And the next day, it pays off. Andrea emails me to confirm an interview in a few days’ time.
Andrea Williams: And just so that you know how I feel…
Andrea: Um, I don’t feel massively comfortable right now, so, and that’s, that’s the truth. Um, the way in which this has kind of evolved in terms of happening, um, which is that you approached….
Rachel, narrating: We’re finally in the Wimpole Street townhouse. Andrea meets us at reception, where headlines from the Mail and the Sun tabloids have been framed behind coloured perspex. One of them just said ‘Hallelujah!’ with an exclamation mark. She leads us upstairs to a beautiful meeting room with high Georgian ceilings, and a plate of cut fruit.
Andrea: And then you came to the book launch…
Rachel: Well, that was just part of our research…
Rachel, narrating: I wonder if it’s real, her anxiety. All my research has shown Andrea to be fearless, driven, uncompromising and extremely media savvy. The Andrea in front of me seems quite different to the one I’ve seen in other interviews and I wonder if she’s trying to put me on the back foot. I start the interview with my biggest question – why the Christian Legal Centre gets involved in right to life cases like Alfie Evans and Archie Battersbee.
Andrea: The truth is this, that the whole history of this organisation, of Christian Concern and indeed of my own personal history is that we are passionately pro-life. I believe in the value and beauty of every single one of us, every single human being from the moment of conception to the point of natural death. What has been something that has come to us in a sense and something that we weren’t necessarily expecting as an organisation is these high profile end of life cases. It’s not that we sought them, it’s more that those that were in that situation found us.
Rachel: Did they?
Andrea: Because we are here and we say, we’ll help you. And we help to, we provide them with a voice. Uh, we come alongside them because we do understand the, the legal arguments. We understand the process. We understand all the other pressures that are around them.
Rachel, narrating: But is the Christian Legal Centre adding more pressure by encouraging the media circus?
Andrea: And you see justice must be seen to be done and seen to be done in the light. Justice must be transparent.
Rachel: Do you think that it was regrettable in any way? Or do you think that actually having the media focusing on it is an opportunity to kind of talk about these important issues?
Andrea: Well, I think it is an opportunity, isn’t it? And indeed the media was already there before we got involved in fact, both in, uh, Archie Battersbee’s case and in Alfie Evans’ case. And that was because the parents in the case wanted the world to know.
Rachel, narrating: What about Pavel Stroilov? Andrea had said over email that he might also be in the interview – the Russian, who turned out not to be a lawyer. The man who advised a father to launch a private prosecution for murder against the hospital caring for his son. But when we turn up, he’s not there. Andrea explained Pavel Stroilov was busy ‘working on cases’ and couldn’t make it. I ask Andrea how she feels about a judge branding one of her employees as ‘fanatical and deluded.’
Andrea: I think that, um, those are highly inappropriate comments for a high court judge to make. And in fact, Mr. Justice Hayden hauled Pavel in front of him, and Pavel gave an account of himself, which, uh, was exceptional. And, um, Mr. Justice Hayden knew at that point that there was nowhere he could go with what Pavel had done because actually, Pavel’s behaviour and actions had been of a young advocate who was passionately defending, uh, the rights of his client and who was actually passionately defending the cause of life, but more than that was doing his job.
Rachel, narrating: She still seems immune to any criticism of Stroilov. And she still seems to think the court got it wrong.
Andrea: I think what the system hasn’t been used to is people within it coming in as the voice of the parents and pushing back on some of the arguments that have been behind the closed doors. So beginning to open wide the, what if we don’t think it’s in the best interests of Alfie to die? What if we think it’s in the best interests of Alfie to be moved a hundred metres down the corridor to a waiting ambulance to fly across to the hospital Bambino Gesù in Roma, where he will be looked after. And what if that had happened? Perhaps he’d be alive today. Perhaps he’d be disabled, but perhaps he’d be alive. And that’s all we were requesting, and that’s all that Pavel Stroilov was fighting for.
Rachel, narrating: I really want to know, is there something bigger than just these ‘right to life’ cases going on?
Rachel: Do you think from the cases that you take on, do you think that Christians are being persecuted?
Andrea: Absolutely they are being persecuted or else we wouldn’t exist.
Rachel: Do you feel that there is a sort of culture war with the sort of pro-choice groups, you know, the LGBT campaigners. Do you feel that you are in a sort of battle with them to make sure that, so that your voice is heard or that the Christians that you represent are heard?
Andrea: Well, there is a cultural battle, isn’t there? There’s a cultural battle for, uh, the heart of a nation.
Rachel, narrating: To Andrea, Christianity is the answer
Andrea: A hard, secular liberal culture has not brought freedom. Has it brought freedom to our young people? Has it brought happiness to our young people? Has it brought true toleration to our young people? Has it brought true toleration to that kind 74 year old chaplain who was thrown out of his job a couple of weeks ago because he wouldn’t take off his cross? It hasn’t brought that.
Rachel, narrating: I think I’m finally seeing the bigger picture. In Andrea’s own words, she sees herself in a battle against modern, liberal values. And she’s still defending Stroilov. And I’m amazed that she still seems to believe it would have been better for Alfie Evans to be flown to Italy against all unanimous medical evidence.
I’m still curious about the money. Is the Christian Legal Centre really funded by donations? Or is that global network, including the American Evangelists, behind some of their work?
Rachel: How does it work? How, where do you get your money from?
Andrea: I run marathons.
Rachel: [laughing] What you personally fund the whole thing?
Andrea: I run, I run marathons and, let me say that, you know, the response to the marathon was incredible and I don’t say that lightly.
Rachel: How much did you raise?
Andrea: I raised £160,000 I think.
Rachel: Did you?
Rachel: Just the New York one? Wow.
Andrea: Yeah. So, um, and that’s genuinely, and I can show you the letters. It’s literally ten pounds here… I was out the other day and somebody gave me £50 in an envelope. And that’s the miracle of the funding of this work.
Rachel, narrating: Andrea goes on to talk about monthly standing orders, and fundraising campaigns like the marathon. I’ve got a question about that American group, the ADF in the back of my mind, but Andrea gets there first.
Andrea: So there is no hidden multi-million, multi-billionaire here. There is no…
Rachel: There’s no money from the states coming in?
Andrea: There’s no money. There’s really no money from the states coming here.
Rachel, narrating: But I’m still not sure this is true. I press her on it
Rachel: And I just wondered whether, how involved you are with them. Whether they…
Andrea: ADF has a UK branch and a European branch and I certainly was, um, very involved with ADF happily, um, in the late 1990s. And certainly in the early years we had a few small grants from them just in, literally in the, you know, like $5,000, something like that. We’re talking, you know, in the early years. I don’t think we’ve received a grant from ADF, um, for maybe, 10 years or 12 years.
Rachel, narrating: So Andrea has just confirmed that money has been donated from the ADF – the law firm behind the overturning of Roe v Wade. Although she says it was a small amount, and a long time ago.
Hannah, producer: Well.
Rachel: How was that?
Rachel, narrating: After an hour, we leave. With a gift bag that has a Christian Concern marketing pack and a bar of Christian Concern chocolate inside.
Hannah, producer: Interesting, isn’t it?
Rachel: But it just doesn’t really add up in terms of, she says there’s no big mystery, there’s nothing to hide. But how do you pay for those big cases, you know? They’re churning stuff out….
Rachel, narrating: I started off this investigation with the parents fighting for their children’s right to life, and asking if they were being used for an ideological agenda. Experts told me about cases where religious mediators have played vital roles in bringing the parents of sick children together with medical teams. But I heard from judges, the Church, the medical establishment, mediators and politicians that the intervention of the Christian Legal Centre was unhelpful and divisive. Andrea Williams brushed that off. She defended her colleague Pavel Stroilov, the man a judge criticised so strongly. She talked passionately about the families of Alfie Evans and Archie Battersbee but she also made clear that their cases are just one front in the Christian Legal Centre’s cultural battle – a battle against what she calls a ‘hard, secular liberal culture.’ And you can tell from the way she talks about the win on Roe v Wade that she’s inspired by the American Christian right.
Andrea: Absolutely fantastic, isn’t it? It’s very good news, and I’ll tell you why it is good news – because that’s good law. That’s good law to protect life.
Rachel: Would you want to see something similar in this country?
Rachel, narrating: There was one other thing that Andrea said which stays with me. It was about the Equality Act.
Andrea: You go to our courtrooms, ten commandments are written on the walls, you swear on the Bible…
Rachel, narrating: She has a vision of a legal system that puts Christianity first.
Andrea: This is our history. What the Human Rights Act did, and what the Equality Act did was in a sense shift away from a notion of a higher law and a common law to say we have human rights laws. So we have a, a series of what became competing laws, competing ideas of what was a human right, because they can’t… if you have a whole set of different rights, which are given equivalent status, but in the end compete, then you have a competition of rights and then there will be a hierarchy of rights as opposed to this notion that there is a common law that’s given.
Rachel: I see.
Andrea: And that’s where you get the chaos. That’s where you begin to get the chaos and then you get a lack of understanding over what religious expression is. So people believe that you can take off your religious belief, the door of your work or something, and then they begin to believe that other rights are innate.
Rachel, narrating: It’s all there, in her own words. This version of freedom seems to be for Christians only. They don’t want a society of equal and competing rights. They want preeminence for God and the Christian faith. Andrea is personable and devout and she’s very determined. But I left those offices on Wimpole Street with a feeling that her version of Christianity seems every bit as hard and cold as the liberal, secular culture she says she is fighting in her battle for the heart of the nation.
How we got here
We spoke to more than 20 sources for this investigation – politicians, barristers, journalists, church representatives, mediators and campaigners – who all have different views about the role the Christian Legal Centre plays in right to life cases.
Many questioned the CLC’s motivation for taking the cases – were they more concerned for the welfare of the families, or their agenda? Its website says its role is to provide legal support “for those taking a stand for Jesus” and we discovered that its legal challenges go far beyond these very high profile right to life cases. We examined public records trying to understand how it was funded, and its connections to Christian legal groups in the United States. And crucially, we wanted to hear directly from the CLC and its founder Andrea Williams. David Taylor, Editor