Today’s big question

What is Harper’s Law?

Killing emergency workers to carry life sentence following campaign by police officer’s widow

Offenders whose crimes result in the death of emergency service workers in the line of duty will receive mandatory life sentences under a new law being introduced by the government

The Ministry of Justice said today that Harper’s Law, named after police officer Andrew Harper, would be passed “as soon as possible”, following a campaign by his widow. Welcoming the announcement, Lissie Harper said that her late husband “would be proud to see Harper’s Law reach this important milestone”.

PC Andrew Harper was 28 and recently married when he was “dragged down a winding country road” by a car while responding to a quad bike theft by a trio of teenagers in August 2019, said The Guardian. He died from his injuries after his foot became tangled in a tow rope attached to the car as the teenagers made their getaway in the Berkshire village of Sulhamstead.

Henry Long, 19, was sentenced to 16 years in July last year after pleading guilty to manslaughter at the Old Bailey, while Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, both 18, were each jailed for 13 years. The Court of Appeal rejected a bid by the attorney general to increase their sentences.

Harper’s widow told reporters that she had been “shocked and appalled” that the teens were cleared of murder and felt “let down” when senior judges refused to extend their prison sentences. She launched a campaign for mandatory life sentences for such killers, with more than 750,000 people signing a petition backing the proposal. 

Following the law change, life sentences will “apply to manslaughter of emergency service workers in nearly all circumstances”, The Times reported, “even in cases where the accused may not have had the intent to kill”.

Under the legislation, Harper’s killers 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.

Ministry of Justice (MoJ) sources told The Telegraph that there would be scope for judicial discretion in “exceptional” circumstances. For example, a drunk or careless driver who killed a police officer could face prosecution under the new law, but “if it was careless driving and it was low culpability, the judge might think a mandatory life sentence is too harsh”, according to an insider.

The reform will apply to the killings of police officers, paramedics, firefighters and prison guards, and will go on to the statute book via an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. It is likely to become law in early 2022.

Priti Patel said that she was “proud to be able to honour Andrew’s life by introducing Harper’s Law”. Thanking his widow for her campaigning efforts, the home secretary added that people who sought to harm emergency workers represented the “worst of humanity”.

“It is right that future killers be stripped of the freedom to walk our streets with a life sentence,” Patel said.

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