Matt Vickers: The killing of Andrew Harper. Why I, alongside 22 other MPs, wrote to the Attorney General last Friday.

5 Aug

Matt Vickers is the MP for Stockton South.

The images of Henry Long, Albert Bowers and Jessie Cole laughing during their trial for the killing of PC Andrew Harper truly pierced the public consciousness. Their sniggering and pride in the devastation they caused has desperately angered the British people, and last week’s manslaughter verdict feels out of step with such a brutal crime.

On August 15, 2019, PC Harper was called to the scene of the attempted theft of a quad bike. The three teenage boys involved sped away in their car, PC Harper became tangled and was dragged for over a mile, before dying on the road. His killers swerved time and time again, violently trying to shake him off, yet they claim they were unaware he was even stuck to the car.

Such a crime against one of our brave police officers must surely be met with only the strongest and toughest of sentences. Anything less beggars’ belief and flies in the face of justice.

It is for this reason I, alongside 22 other MPs, wrote to the Attorney General last Friday. We are urging her to refer the case to the Court of Appeal and recommend that a full life-term should be served. Faith in public order is integral; for our justice system to work we must protect those who work to uphold and defend it.

Just take a few moments to read Lissie Harper’s open letter, published on Facebook. PC Harper’s wife’s letter is both eloquent and direct, devastated yet composed:

“I implore you to hear my words, see the facts that are laid out before us, and I ask with no expectations other than hope that you might help me to make these changes be considered, to ensure that Andrew is given the retrial that he unquestionably deserves and to see that the justice system in our country is the solid ethical foundation that it rightly should be. Not the joke that so many of us now view it to be.”

His innocent loved ones have been left without closure; a common-sense approach to justice is needed. Unfortunately, many would say the ultimate aim of securing a retrial is unlikely, and I would be choosing to overlook significant legal precedents if I was to say otherwise.

It is very rare for “not guilty” verdicts to be overturned, regardless of how intense external pressures and public demand may be. In this instance, there is a potential road to a retrial, but it is uphill and scattered with obstacles. The High Court would be able to order a retrial if one of the defendants was acquitted because of “intimidation of, or interference with, a witness or juror”.

From the very beginning of the trial, there were allegations of attempts by supporters of the accused to distort the trial. At one stage, the presiding judge ordered extra security measures to protect the jury, following information from the police thatan attempt is being considered by associates of the defendants to intimidate the jury”. This alone creates the space for an investigation into the conduct of the trial from the Crown Prosecution Service. It could potentially be crucial.

It is obvious that PC Harper was a wonderful man. He had the sense of public duty to serve, even when his shift was up and he was due to head home.

We must stand alongside those who run towards danger to protect us at times like this. The intuitive recognition of what is right and what is wrong is something the people of this country have at their core; it is this very spirit and hunger for justice that must now be harnessed.

Matt Vickers: The lockdown has increased loneliness. Some will need help to reconnect.

9 Jul

Matt Vickers is the MP for Stockton South. He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness.

Are you itching for things to get back to normal?

Are you looking forward to that holiday, trip to the pub, meal with friends?

Like me, do you feel like you’ve been cooped up at home forever, and are just bursting to live a full life again?

What is it you’re missing most?

A long walk on a sandy beach? That first cold frothy pint? Your favourite restaurant’s fish and chips?

Probably. But it’s bigger than that, isn’t it?

It’s the people we miss most.

As lockdown eases and we venture out more, it’s the people we’re looking forward to seeing – our family, friends, and workmates; people we connect with at our football matches, bingo halls, and places of worship.

For many, that will be easy but, for some, they will face challenges that make it harder to get back to normal because lockdown has compounded their isolation and loneliness.

A new British Red Cross report – Life after lockdown – reveals how big those challenges are and, this week, I chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness where we discussed its findings. What the report shows is that lockdown is affecting some people more than others.

People from Black, Asian and minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, younger people, those on lower incomes or unemployed, people who live alone, those with underlying health conditions, and parents with children at home are the loneliest of all.

As many as 41 per cent of UK adults surveyed feel lonelier since lockdown began, with 33 per cent saying they haven’t had a meaningful conversation in the last week. We all have work to do to help people connect and feel part of their communities again.

At this week’s APPG, we heard from 22-year-old Harry Foreman from the Co-op Foundation’s Lonely Not Alone campaign and he told us of his experiences graduating from university and suddenly having to leave behind some of his closest friends during the Covid-19 crisis. He said:

“There’s no handbook for graduating during a pandemic.”

But that’s true for all of us, isn’t it? We’ll all have to adapt in some way.

I’m lucky to be part of a vibrant community in Stockton and have been inspired by the sight of volunteers – both organised and spontaneous – who have been helping the most vulnerable with things shopping and other essentials.

I’ve been trying to play my part too, teaming up with Age UK to help constituents who are feeling lonely.

That spirit must blossom beyond this crisis because people were feeling very lonely before lockdown and many are feeling lonelier because of it – they’re going to need our help as we recover. Members of Parliament have a big role to play.

We must argue for sustained funding for services that help people overcome loneliness while looking to find ways of addressing the reasons why people become so lonely in the first place, like financial hardship and mental health.

We can champion approaches to health like social prescribing that put the focus on activity and interaction, helping people connect and improve their wellbeing through groups, classes, and events.

Rather than looking just at medical options, we need to look at social solutions – doing something you enjoy, meeting other people, forging quality relationships, feeling less lonely, feeling healthier.

It’s clear that, whenever we look at people’s health, there are inequalities at play in our society that impact on our ability to thrive, strive and prosper – MPs have to be at the forefront when it comes to tackling those too.

We can perhaps see loneliness as a signifier that other things may be going wrong in a person’s life and get to work addressing those issues and health concerns.

The Red Cross, Age UK, Mind, Sense, and many others have been supporting people throughout this emergency and will continue to do so when the crisis is over.

The examples of this sort of good work in my own constituency are just too numerous to mention and I know those people who have leapt to action to support others will want to continue to play their part in helping the most vulnerable.

Now is not the time to simply salute that good work alone. Now is the time to build on it.