In 2018, PC Andrew Harper, a 28-year-old newlywed, was killed by three teenagers in a robbery gone wrong.
The defendants, Henry Long, Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, dragged PC Harper to his death, after his ankles became trapped in a strap attached to their getaway car.
All three were cleared of murder, and charged instead with manslaughter. The judge called them “young, unintelligent but professional criminals”.
Dissatisfied with the judge’s ruling, PC Harper’s wife, Lissie Harper has launched a campaign to introduce legislation for mandatory life sentences, in cases where emergency workers are killed. Honouring the memory of her late husband, Mrs Harper proposed the name “Harper’s Law,” for this legislative change.
However, despite the campaign gaining widespread support, legal experts have highlighted that the introduction of such a law could have serious legal implications. Arguably, a mandatory life sentence for the killing of an emergency service worker, overlooks the nuances of manslaughter cases and would not allow for any discretion.
In the UK, if a jury finds that a defendant intentionally killed or seriously injured an individual resulting in their death, a judge will impose a murder sentence. Contrastingly, if someone is killed as a result of an unlawful act, this is deemed manslaughter.
For those found guilty of murder, a judge must give a life sentence. The maximum sentence a judge can impose for manslaughter is also life imprisonment. However, under Section 269 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, a judge must outline the minimum term to be served.
Age also plays a significant role in sentencing. If a defendant is convicted of the murder of a police officer, and is over the age of 21, a whole life sentence will be served. Meanwhile, if a defendant is over the age of 18, but under the age of 21, a 30 year sentence will be imposed.
Back in 2018, three teenagers, Henry Long, 19, and 18-year-olds Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers were trying to steal a quad bike near Stanford Dingley. Attempting to apprehend the trio, PC Andrew Harper became entangled in a rope that hung out from the back of their car.
The three teenagers then dragged PC Harper’s body for a mile along country roads. The police officer subsequently suffered catastrophic injuries, and after becoming disentangled, was left to die in the road.
When the case was taken to court, the three teenagers were charged with manslaughter after a four-week trial and over twelve hours of deliberations. For Long, the sentencing starting point was initially set at 24 years, however, he was awarded credit for his guilty plea. This saw his sentence reduced to 16 years.
That being said, the judge outlined that Long was considered dangerous in legal terms, and had a high chance of committing further offences causing serious physical or psychological harm. He will be eligible for release after serving ten years and eight months. Bowers and Cole were sentenced to 13 years and could be released on licence in nine years.
The judge found that in line with sentencing guidelines, the trio’s crimes fell into the “very high culpability” category of manslaughter.
Responding to the judge’s ruling, PC Harper’s mother, Debbie Adlam, said that her son had not been “brought justice” and that he “deserved so much better”. She stated that she believed the sentencing was not sufficient, adding: “The wider public has made that very obvious – they are all very angry and police officers deserve better than has been received in this case”.
Meanwhile, PC Harper’s wife, to whom he had been married only a month, expressed the same sentiment. She argued that her husband’s case highlighted serious issues within the criminal justice system: “I have witnessed first-hand the lenient and insufficient way in which the justice system deals with criminals who take the lives of our emergency workers”.
Responding to this perceived injustice, Mr Harper’s wife, has launched the Harper’s Law campaign. The campaign outlines: “Criminals convicted of killing a police officer, firefighter, nurse, doctor, prison officer or paramedic to be jailed for life. No ifs. No buts”.
The campaign is supported by the Police Federation of England and Wales. John Apter, Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “The killing of a police officer should see those responsible face the rest of their lives in prison”.
Sentencing guidelines outlined by the Sentencing Council, state that when it comes to manslaughter, sentencing should be informed by both aggravating factors, and the level of culpability on part of the defendants.
One of the aggravating factors that can lead to an extended sentence, is whether or not the victim was “performing a public duty at the time of the offence”. So, in essence, the basis of Harper’s Law already actively informs sentencing guidelines.
Moreover, legal experts have raised concerns over the legal implications stemming from a legislative change like Harper’s Law. Speaking to LBC, Barrister Donal Lawler of 187 Fleet Street, outlined that a mandatory life sentence for killing an emergency worker, “gives absolutely no discretion”.
To demonstrate his point, he posed the following situation, whereby an 18-year-old “nicks a Mars bar,” and in their effort to escape, pushes a police officer. In the case of Harper’s Law, if that police officer were to fall and sustain a “catastrophic brain injury,” despite the intention being minor, in comparison to the consequence, that 18-year-old would face a life sentence. A sentence which Mr Lawler stated would be “disproportionate”.
Responding to the emergence of the Harper’s Law campaign, Conservative MP John Howell , who met with the family of PC Harper, recommended that instead of a legislative change, a review of sentence guidelines was needed.
Reflecting on the judge’s sentencing, the MP for Henley, said: “The crime of manslaughter is a very serious one” and consequently, the sentences made to reflect this “are very severe”. He added: “The question is does the punishment fit the crime?”
Following this, MP John Howell said he would approach the Attorney General and ask for the sentences to be examined to assess whether or not they were “unduly lenient”.
The Attorney General’s Office now has 28 days from the date of the sentencing to decide if the Court of Appeal should review the sentences given to Long, Cole and Bowers.
Mrs Harper has also written an open letter addressed to the Prime Minister requesting a retrial. However, this will not take place unless new evidence emerges or, it is found that there was interference with the jury.