A criminal defence barrister has branded the petition calling for ‘Harper’s Law’ as “silly” in a series of tweets shared on Saturday.
The Police Federation of England & Wales is backing a campaign by Lissie Harper, PC Andrew Harper’s widow, for anyone who is convicted of killing an emergency worker to spend a ‘whole of life’ sentence behind bars.
PC Andrew Harper was killed after the hero PC was dragged behind a car for a distance of 1.4 miles at an average speed of 42.5 mph.
Henry Long, Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers were all found guilty of the manslaughter of PC Harper.
The trio had just carried out an armed raid on a property before making off from the scene with a £10,000 quad bike that was being towed behind a car that was being driven by ‘career criminal’ Henry Long.
PC Harper and his colleague, PC Andrew Shaw, had already worked several hours beyond their scheduled shift when the property owner made the call for help that would result in PC Harper losing his life.
The two officers encountered the getaway vehicle down a country lane, and PC Harper’s foot became entangled in a stolen crane strop – that was being used to tow the stolen bike – as he ran towards the three men.
The online petition behind ‘Harper’s Law’ has now attracted just under 500k signatures with Lissie being due to meet with the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, later this month.
But Mark George QC branded the petition as ‘silly’. In a series of tweets, Mr George said:
‘There’s a silly petition going round calling for life sentences for anyone who kills a police officer, firefighter etc. This is in response to the sentences on the three young men who killed PC Harper. Here is why this is a silly and pointless petition:
‘The petition doesn’t appear to make any distinction between murder and manslaughter. The law already requires that anyone who commits any murder will if convicted get a life sentence, whoever the victim is. That is the only sentence for murder. The law doesn’t need changing.
‘In all cases of manslaughter a life sentence is already possible depending on the circumstances. The law doesn’t need changing. But no offence differs so greatly in possible circumstances than manslaughter.
‘Some manslaughter cases come very close to murder as did the Harper case itself. At the other end a drunken man take a swing at a PC trying to speak to him. He misses but in seeking to avoid the blow the PC slips and cracks his head on the pavement and dies.
‘Such different circumstances require flexibility in determining the appropriate sentence. One may cry out for a life sentence, the other only a short sentence. Demanding that all cases where death is involved require a life sentence makes no sense.
‘But since the petition doesn’t makes this clear, it may be that the proponents mean that the sentence of life should be a whole life sentence if a police officer is killed. Again, that would be an absurd suggestion to make.
‘There would then be no distinction between a case like that of Hashem Abedi who murdered 22 people in the Manchester Arena bombing and who only escaped that sentence due to his age and our drunken idiot whose unlawful attempted blow resulted in a death.
‘The law already allows a judge to pass a life sentence in any case involving a killing whether public servant or not. There is no need and therefore no point in this petition. It is the product of misunderstanding of the current law. It might also lead to serious injustice.’
Andrew’s mother, Debbie Adlam, is also working on getting the law changed so that anyone who is convicted of killing an emergency worker spends at least 20 years behind bars without any ‘discounts’ being applied to any relevant sentence that is handed down to anyone who is convicted of such an offence.
Long, Bowers and Cole each had discounts applied to their respective sentences, meaning that they could be out of prison in less than ten years.
406k people have digitally signed the petition which has been called ‘Overturn a Miscarriage of Justice’.
Radd Seiger, adviser to Andrew’s mother Debbie Adlam said;
‘Silly is not a word I would have used in respect of this petition.
‘Mr George is, however, as one of the country’s leading criminal barristers, absolutely right in his criticism of it. The petition is well motivated in that like all of us it seeks to better protect our blue light officers.
‘But it has been poorly drafted by the Police Federation whose proposals for a whole life tariff in manslaughter cases are sadly ill thought through, totally unworkable and thus futile.
‘On an emotional level we all might agree that locking people up and throwing away the key is the right thing to do in these circumstances, but we don’t even do that in serious murder cases in our country.
‘Whole life orders have only been passed down on rare occasions for the most heinous of crimes.
‘We are all agreed however that a different solution is required given what is going on. We have consulted widely with many senior police officers, lawyers and politicians and have taken a forensic approach to our suggestion to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison if you seriously injure or kill a blue light officer whilst you are committing a crime.
‘The aim is to deter offenders from taking the sort of reckless and dangerous action that Andrew’s killers took.
‘That is what the team at AndrewsLawUK are calling for but it is ultimately up to our lawmakers of course to wrestle with this difficult issue.
‘This is our suggestion but we should all engage in reasonable and respectful debate in Andrew’s and other fallen officers’ memories to help the lawmakers reach the right decision.
‘Debbie has been invited to meet with Priti Patel on 8 September at the Home Office and is very much looking forward to that discussion.’
The Attorney General, Rt Hon Suella Braverman QC MP, has confirmed that the sentences which have been handed down to Long, Cole and Bowers, have been referred to the Court of Appeal under the Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme.
Speaking about the case, the Attorney General said:
“This was a horrific crime which resulted in the death of a much-respected police officer while he was on-duty, protecting his community.
“Having personally considered the details of this shocking case, I have decided to refer the sentences of PC Andrew Harper’s killers to the Court of Appeal.
“Attacks made against emergency workers will not be tolerated and offenders should be punished with the greatest severity for such heinous crimes.”
A date for the hearing at the Court of Appeal is yet to be set.
A spokesperson for “Harper’s Law’ has been contacted for comment.
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