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 that “an 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.