Relatives of PC Andrew Harper, who was dragged to his death in August 2019, have spoken of their pain at his loss as his three killers were jailed on Friday.
Henry Long, the 19-year-old ringleader, was sentenced to 16 years in prison, while Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, both 18, were each sentenced to 13 years in a young offender’s institute after being found guilty of manslaughter. Each was told they would be eligible for release after two-thirds of their sentence at a hearing at the Old Bailey in London.
The judge, Mr Justice Edis, told them that, while they were not guilty of murder, they were guilty of as serious a case of manslaughter as it was possible. They had committed an act of “wicked calculation” when they sought to escape with Harper caught up in a tow rope. Edis accepted, however, it could not be proven they knew he was there.
He said they killed “a talented and brave young police officer who was going above and beyond his duty in order to provide a public service”. He told them they did so because they “deliberately decided to expose any police officer that got in your way to a risk of death”. And he rejected the suggestion they had shown remorse.
The judge told Long his evidence demonstrated he was a dangerous person who might kill again were he allowed to continue his criminal career.
Harper, 28, died as he attempted to apprehend the three teenagers, who were trying to steal a quad bike.
The Thames Valley police officer became entangled in a tow rope attached to their Seat Toledo and was dragged at “breakneck” speed for more than a mile along country lanes before he was dislodged, having sustained horrific injuries.
Harper’s mother, Deborah Adlam, said she has been unable to come to terms with the fact her son will never get to be a father himself, something she hoped was not far away when he got married about a month before his death.
“We are lost and hurting; the pain endless. He was my firstborn child and he has been literally ripped from us,” she wrote in a statement read to the court on her behalf.
In it, she described the horror of receiving the news of her son’s death in the early hours of the morning, of having to break it to her other children and of sitting with her son’s covered body, unable even to see him because of the extent of his injuries. “I love and miss him dearly.”
The court heard that the teenagers, who admitted plotting the theft of the quad bike, had been determined to escape “at all costs”.
Long pleaded guilty to manslaughter but each had denied knowing Harper was there. Their defence claimed the incident was a “freak event” that none of them could have planned or foreseen. The prosecution said the defendants must have been aware Harper,who was over 6ft and weighed 14 stone, was being dragged to his death.
As they were cleared of his murder last week, the three hugged and held each other’s hands. Bowers cried out when he learned he had been convicted of manslaughter. As they were sentenced on Friday, Long glanced up briefly to members of his family in the public gallery as he was sentenced. Cole kept his head bowed, while Bowers appeared shocked as the sentences were returned.
Some supporters of the defendants wept and gasped as the judge announced his decision on Friday. Lissie Harper’s mother Julie Beckett applauded at the conclusion of the hearing.
A fourth man, Thomas King, 22, was sentenced to two years in prison, having pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal. He was not involved in Harper’s death.
Lissie Harper previously condemned the murder acquittals and later wrote to Boris Johnson to ask for a retrial. Speaking outside court immediately after the verdicts, she described the death of her husband as “brutal and senseless”, adding: “For many, many agonising months we have hoped that justice would come in some way for Andrew.”
She added: “The results from this trial, I had hoped would bring justice but in reality make no difference to the heart-wrenching pain I will continue to feel for the rest of my life.”