PC Andrew Harper's widow wins bid to change law

Image source, FamilyHandout
Image caption,
PC Andrew Harper married his childhood sweetheart Lissie four weeks before he was killed

A campaign by PC Andrew Harper's widow to give mandatory life sentences to the killers of emergency service workers has been backed by the government.

Newly-married PC Harper was 28 when he was dragged to his death by a getaway car in August 2019. Three teenagers were jailed for manslaughter.

The Ministry of Justice said it would aim to pass Harper's Law in England and Wales "as soon as possible".

Lissie Harper said she was delighted and her late husband would be proud.

If passed, the new law would introduce mandatory life sentences for those who kill on-duty emergency workers while committing a crime.

It includes police, prison officers, firefighters, and paramedics and will be applicable unless there are "truly exceptional circumstances".

Speaking during a meeting with Justice Secretary Dominic Raab at his Westminster office on Wednesday, Mrs Harper said "a lot of hard work" had gone into her two-year campaign.

She told Mr Raab it had been a "long, hard journey" but she was "relieved" and "really happy" the government had backed the law change.

Thanking Mrs Harper for her campaign, Mr Raab said she had a "huge amount of support in the country [and] the House of Commons" and he was pleased the government could get Harper's Law into the existing Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and onto the statute books "in weeks and months".

It means Harper's Law could become law by early next year.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Lissie Harper told Dominic Raab of her relief that the government had backed her campaign for the new law

Earlier, Mr Raab said the government was "on the side of victims and their families" and wanted emergency workers to know "we'll always have their back".

He told BBC Breakfast the new law, if passed, would only apply to crimes and sentences "going forward" and would not be retrospective.

Mr Raab also voiced his concern about the "scale" of attacks on emergency workers, adding that there were about 10,000 convictions for assaults on emergency workers last year.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Lissie Harper said she knew "all too well" how emergency services "are put at risk"

Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber told BBC News it was "right" the government was offering greater protection to emergency workers.

He added: "It's not - as some people have characterised it - about valuing the lives of police officers or emergency service workers more greatly than the rest of us, but it's about understanding their actions and valuing the actions they take where they are often running towards danger to protect the rest of us."

PC Harper's killers were cleared of murder and instead sentenced for manslaughter.

The Thames Valley police officer died after being dragged along country lanes in Sulhamstead, Berkshire, while answering a late-night burglary call.

He had become entangled in a strap attached to a getaway vehicle as he tried to deal with three quad bike thieves.

His injuries were so catastrophic one of his colleagues could not recognise him.

Causing a death by manslaughter - in other words, without intending murder - covers such a range of terrible incidents that judges have long been left to work out the precise sentence, based on the evidence before them.

Our law says a sentence needs to take into account deterrence, reform and rehabilitation, public protection, reparations and punishment.

And it's that last category - of making sure the punishment fits the crime - that many supporters of Harper's Law say matters.

Will a mandatory life sentence for such a crime reduce attacks on emergency service workers?

The evidence indicates that longer sentencing tends to be associated with "limited or no general deterrent effect".

Experts say all the evidence seems to suggest that the most restraining factor on a would-be criminal is the simple question of whether they would be caught.

After his death, Mrs Harper said she had found herself in a "lost and endless world of numb despair".

Henry Long, the 19-year-old leader of the group, admitted manslaughter and was sentenced to 16 years.

Albert Bowers and Jessie Cole, both 18, were convicted of manslaughter after a trial at the Old Bailey and given 13-year sentences.

Last year, the Court of Appeal rejected a bid by the attorney general to increase their sentences.

Courts currently impose life sentences for murder, with a whole-life - or so-called "life means life" - order being the starting point if a police officer is murdered.

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 brought in a statutory aggravating factor requiring judges to consider increased sentences for offences including manslaughter, grievous bodily harm (GBH) or sexual assault if the victim was an emergency worker.

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Image caption,
Henry Long, Albert Bowers and Jessie Cole were cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter

Mrs Harper, from Wallingford in Oxfordshire, said her late husband "would be proud to see Harper's Law reach this important milestone".

She said she knew "all too well" how emergency workers are "put at risk" and she was "delighted" that Harper's Law would soon provide the "extra protection" they needed.

Image source, Martis Media
Image caption,
Lissie Harper previously met Priti Patel as part of her campaign for Harper's Law

Home Secretary Priti Patel said people who sought to harm emergency workers represented the "worst of humanity" and that it was "right that future killers be stripped of the freedom to walk our streets with a life sentence".

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