Killers of emergency workers to face mandatory life sentences after death of PC Andrew Harper

Criminals who kill emergency servicer workers will face mandatory life sentences under new legislation following the death of PC Andrew Harper. The police officer, 28, was killed while responding to a burglary in August 2019, just four weeks after his wedding. His widow, Lissie Harper, has campaigned tirelessly for the introduction of the law, which will be named Harper’s Law in his memory.

What happened to PC Harper?

PC Harper, a Thames Valley officer, was dragged along behind a car for more than a mile while on duty after becoming entangled in a tow rope while attempting to apprehend teenagers suspected of stealing a quad bike.

The defence had argued that the death was a “freak accident”, but prosecutors contended they must have been aware of PC Harper being dragged behind the vehicle as they drove through Berkshire. Three teenagers, driver Henry Long and his passengers Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, were found guilty of manslaughter but acquitted of murder. Long was jailed for 16 years after pleading guilty and Cole and Albert were each jailed for 13 years following a trial.

Ms Harper said at the time that she was “outraged” by the length of their sentences. The Attorney General appealed for their sentences to be increased, but the calls were rejected. Special measures had to be put in place to protect jurors in the case, after police warned of a plot “by associates of the defendants to intimidate the jury”.

Following the sentencing, Ms Harper launched a campaign for mandatory life sentences for those that kill emergency workers.

PC Andrew Harper was killed in August 2019 while responding to a burglary (Photo: Thames Valley/PA)

What will the new law mean?

The law will cover the deaths of police officers, National Crime Agency officers, prison officers, custody officers, firefighters and paramedics. Anyone who kills these workers will automatically face a life sentence.

It will make sentencing for the manslaughter of emergency service workers the same as murder, for which offenders are always handed life sentences. Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said that in “truly exceptional circumstances” a judge would be able to decide not to impose a life sentence in manslaughter cases involving an emergency services worker. He denied that the law was blurring the lines between manslaughter and murder.

What is the current law?

Manslaughter is defined as murder without premeditation.

It is broadly divided into two groups; voluntary manslaughter, which the offender intended to kill someone or cause serious harm but “is not guilty of murder due to provocation or mental incapacity”, according to the Sentencing Council. There is also involuntary manslaughter, where the offender did not intend to kill someone but has caused death through an unlawful act or due to gross negligence.

Convictions for killing officers in the line of duty over the past decade

  • 2018: PC Gareth Browning was seriously injured in November 2013 when a stolen car slammed into him while he was attempting to apprehend the driver, Luke Haywood, in Reading. The officer died from his injuries in 2017, and Haywood was jailed for three years and five months in 2018.

    His widow Ruth has expressed her support for Harper’s Law.

  • 2016: In October 2015, Clayton Williams ploughed into PC Dave Phillips in a stolen pick-up truck during a high-speed police chase. He was convicted of manslaughter in 2016 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
  • 2014: Gary Bromige was jailed for eight and a half years for causing the death of PC Andrew Duncan in 2013 by dangerous driving.
  • 2014: Shane Christopher Frane was jailed in 2014 over the death of police officer Philippa Reynolds, who was killed when a stolen car crashed into the police car she was riding in the year before. Frane was told he would not be considered for parole until six years into his manslaughter sentence.
  • 2013: Dale Cregan was handed a rare whole life sentence for the murders of police officers Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, along with two other men, in Greater Manchester.

    The officers were lured to a fake burglary by Cregan before being shot dead.

  • 2009: PC Jon Henry was stabbed to death in Luton in 2007 by Ikechukwu Tennyson Obih as he tried to arrest him for stabbing a window cleaner. Obih was convicted of murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years in March 2009.
  • 2006-2007: Six men have been convicted for the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky, who was shot dead by a criminal gang in Bradford while attending reports of a robbery. Three of the men were handed minimum 35-year jail sentences for her murder, two were convicted of manslaughter and one of his role as a lookout.
  • 2004: DC Stephen Oake was stabbed to death during a police raid in Manchester in 2003.

    Kamel Bourgass was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 22 years, plus an additional 15 years for the attempted murder on other officers.

  • 2004: PC Ian Broadhurst was killed in Leeds in 2003 when he approached David Bieber suspecting that his car had fake number plates. Bieber, who was wanted by the FBI for two killings in Florida, pulled out a gun and shot the officer without warning. Having also been convicted of attempted murder on the officers present, Bieber was convicted of murder and handed a whole life sentence in 2004, but in 2008 this was reduced to a minimum term of 37 years by the court of appeal, after which he can apply for parole.
  • 2003: In January 2003, PC Ged Walker was killed after being dragged 100 yards and fatally injured by a stolen taxi in Nottinghamshire as he tried to remove the keys from its ignition.

    Later that year, the then-26-year-old was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

  • 2002: Nicholas Walters was secretly recorded boasting about killing PC Malcolm Walker by ramming a stolen car into the office while he was on a motorcycle patrol in Birmingham in October 2001. The judge handed him a life sentence in December 2002, saying he “deliberately went after” the officer.
  • 2002: PCs Andrew Munn and Bryan Moore were killed in 2002 by a drink driver who deliberately smashed his van into their patrol car during a high speed chase in Leicestershire. Leayon Dudley was originally sentenced to life in prison for their deaths but this was changed to a 14-year sentence when he admitted manslaughter during a retrial.
  • 2001: Thomas Whaley was sentenced to eight years for the manslaughter of PC Alison Armitage in 2001 after reportedly driving backwards and forwards over her body as he attempted to flee police in a stolen car.

    However, he left Strangeways Prison in 2006 after serving just five years.

Under current laws, those found guilty of manslaughter can be given a maximum term of life in prison, but this is unusual. According to the Sentencing Guidelines, the offence range for manslaughter caused by an unlawful act is between one and 24 years custody. Long would have been given a sentence of 24 years for the manslaughter of PC Harper but his guilty plea reduced this by a third to 16 years.

The Judge said that the age of the defendants at the time of the offence was also a mitigating factor in determining the length of their jail terms. At the time of the offence, Bowers and Cole were 17 while Long was 18. The judge said they could not be sure if the offenders knew that PC Harper had been caught up in the tow rope when they drove away from the scene, which affected the sentence.

Widow of PC Andrew Harper to meet Priti Patel to discuss call for new law giving killers of emergency workers life sentences

How did the change come about?

Ms Harper met last year with Home Secretary Priti Patel to push for the law, after her online petition secured nearly 500,000 signatures.

She said the legal change had “been a long journey and I lot of hard work”. “Emergency services 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,” she said. “I know Andrew would be proud to see Harper’s Law reach this important milestone.” Justice minister Dominic Raab said that it had been a “harrowing case” and praised Ms Harper for doing “an amazing job” in pushing for change.

“We want [emergency services workers] to know that we have got their back,” he said. “I hope it will give confidence to emergency workers… that we are on their side.”