Killers of emergency workers face full-life sentences as Harper’s Law is approved

Anyone who kills an emergency worker while they are on duty will face a mandatory life sentence, after ministers approved Harper’s Law.

The new legislation – named after PC Andrew Harper, who was dragged to his death while chasing a group of thieves in August 2019 – will apply to those who kill police officers, paramedics, firefighters and prison guards.

It will mean tougher sentences for those who kill emergency workers while committing a crime, even if they did not intend to.

The introduction of the new law is a victory for PC Harper’s widow, Lissie, who has campaigned tirelessly for tougher sentences.

The couple had only been married for a matter of weeks when he was killed after responding to reports of a burglary in a remote part of Berkshire.

Welcoming the Government’s decision to introduce the new law, Mrs Harper said: “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.”

She added: “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.”

PC Harper’s mother and widow describe their ordeal

PC Harper’s killers, Henry Long, 19, and 18 year-olds Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, were convicted of manslaughter, but acquitted of murder despite dragging the police officer for more than a mile behind their getaway car as they fled the scene of an attempted quad bike theft.

The 28-year-old officer, who had been chasing the teenagers, became tangled in a tow rope behind their car and suffered catastrophic fatal injuries as the gang fled the scene.

Long was sentenced to 16 years while Cole and Bowers were given 13 years each in a case that the trial judge described “as close to murder as you could get”.

An appeal by the Attorney General against the “unduly lenient” sentences was subsequently dismissed by the Court of Appeal, prompting Mrs Harper to launch her campaign to change the law on sentencing around those who kill emergency workers.

Under Harper’s Law, Long, Cole and Bowers would have received a mandatory life sentence on conviction of manslaughter and would have had to appear before a parole board before they would become eligible for release.

The change in the law has been backed by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, and Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary.

Mr Raab paid tribute to Mrs Harper’s “remarkable” campaign. “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,” he said.

Ms Patel said it was “right that future killers be stripped of the freedom to walk our streets with a life sentence.”

“PC Andrew Harper’s killing was shocking. As well as a committed police officer, he was 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,” she said.

MoJ sources said there would be scope for judicial discretion in “exceptional” circumstances where, for example, the original crime that led to the death of an emergency worker might not justify a life sentence.

A drunken or careless driver who killed a police officer could face prosecution for the new offence but an MoJ source said: “There is judicial discretion in there. It would be wrong to say they would absolutely get a life sentence.

“The judge would look at the case. If it was careless driving and it was low culpability, the judge might think a mandatory life sentence is too harsh.”

The new offence could be introduced as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and could be on the statute book early next year. Anyone who murders a police officer will still face a whole-life order.

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