Killers of Emergency Services Workers to Be Jailed for Life as UK Gov’t Backs ‘Harper’s Law’
© Photo : Thames Valley PolicePC Andrew Harper
© Photo : Thames Valley Police
Police constable Andrew Harper, 28, was killed in the line of duty on 15 August 2019, in Berkshire, England after he and a fellow officer had responded to a report of a late-night burglary. Harper was dragged behind a getaway car, causing his death; the three teenagers inside were convicted of manslaughter in 2020.
Anyone convicted of killing an emergency service worker in the line of duty will now receive mandatory life sentences under a new law that the UK government has confirmed will be added to the statute books.
Named Harper’s law after PC Andrew Harper, who was killed in the line of duty in 2019, the new legislation will be enshrined through an amendment to the existing police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. The move is the result of a two-year campaign by Lissie Harper, the police officer’s wife, who had been “outraged” by the sentences that three teenagers responsible for his death had received.
Once passed, the law will offer greater protection to police, prison officers, firefighters and paramedics as they carry out their immediate duties. According to the UK government’s press release, the move extends mandatory life sentences applicable to anyone immediately engaged in criminal activity who commits manslaughter by killing an emergency worker on duty, unless there are exceptional circumstances involved.
Currently, UK courts impose life sentences for murder, with a whole-life order being the starting point if a police officer is murdered. However, offenders who dodge murder charges and are convicted of a lesser manslaughter offence often receive milder punishment. The legal change is set to apply to precisely such cases. The Ministry of Justice announced that it hoped to pass Harper's Law in England and Wales "as soon as possible", with it likely to take effect early next year.
As Justice Secretary Dominic Raab announced the government’s decision, he paid tribute to Lissie Harper's "remarkable" two-year campaign, adding:
“This government is on the side of victims and their families and we want our emergency services to know that we’ll always have their back.”
The UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel, recalled the “shocking” killing of PC Andrew Harper – a “committed police officer, a husband and a son.”
“It is with thanks to the dedication of Lissie and his family that I am proud to be able to honour Andrew’s life by introducing Harper’s Law. Those who seek to harm our emergency service workers represent the very worst of humanity and it is right that future killers be stripped of the freedom to walk our streets with a life sentence,” stated Patel.
The announced legal change is a major victory for the widow of PC Andrew Harper, who was quoted as saying:
"It's been a long journey and a lot of hard work. I know Andrew would be proud to see Harper's Law reach this important milestone."
Death of PC Andrew Harper
On 15 August 2019, newly-married PC Andrew Harper, 28, together with his fellow officer responded to reports of a stolen quad bike at Stanford Dingley in Berkshire. As he approached the suspects, his legs became entangled in a strap that had been used by the vehicle of the thieves to tow the stolen quad bike.
According to PC Harper’s colleague, PC Andrew Shaw, the officer fell and disappeared from view. He was dragged by the getaway car for more than a mile at an average speed of 43mph, before his body became disentangled. Harper died from his injuries.
Henry Long, the 19-year-old leader of the group, admitted manslaughter and was sentenced to 16 years. He could walk free after serving two-thirds of the sentence. 18-year old passengers Albert Bowers and Jessie Cole were convicted of manslaughter after a trial at the Old Bailey and given 13-year sentences. Both will be entitled to automatic release after serving eight years and eight months of their terms. The jury cleared all three perpetrators of murder. In 2020 the Court of Appeal rejected a bid by the attorney general to increase their sentences.
After the violent death of her husband, whom she had married but a month earlier, Lissie Harper said she had found herself in a "lost and endless world of numb despair". She had denounced the sentences as “inadequate” punishment for the “brutal and criminal way” in which her husband was killed.
Lissie Harper embarked on a two-year campaign to lobby the government to better protect emergency services workers.
As the intended law change was announced on Tuesday, the widow thanked everyone who had supported her campaign.
“Emergency service workers require extra protection. I know all too well how they are put at risk – and into the depths of danger – on a regular basis on behalf of society. That protection is what Harper’s Law will provide and I am delighted that it will soon become a reality.”