Episode 14 – The Killing of PC Harper

In August 2009, PC Andrew Harper and his colleague Andrew Shaw responded to the call of a burglary in West Berkshire, England, despite the fact they were already finishing their shift. Going beyond the call of duty was nothing unusual for hardworking professionals—but this time, the decision to do overtime came at a terrible cost. Once the night ended, only one of the officers returned home. 

On the night of August 15, 2019, the police control centre received a call at 11:17 PM from Peter Wallis from Stanford Dingley. He said:

“I’ve got masked men outside my house, and they’ve got weapons. They are backing into the property now.”

Peter gave the dispatcher the licence plate of a vehicle he described as a Silver hatchback before noticing that the men were about to steal his quad bike. Growing angry, Peter told the dispatcher he was going out—however, he soon realised it was too late, and his quad bike was already gone.

Just five miles from Peter’s home was 28-year-old PC, Andrew Harper, with his partner PC Andrew Shaw in an unmarked police car. The two constables were already four hours over their shift and heading home when the call of the burglary came. So Andrew and his fellow officer did not have any responsibility to respond, but they did anyway. The nature of being a police officer includes flexibility, as criminals rarely announce beforehand when and where they are about to strike.

Less than 10 minutes after the 999 call, Andrew and PC Shaw turned off the A4 into Lambdens Hill and Berkshire lane. Thirty minutes to midnight, the road was pitch black only light coming from the police car’s headlights.

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That was until another pair of headlights appeared from the darkness—a Seat Toledo came the other way on a narrow country road. Soon, the vehicles were face to face with each other having only five to six metres between them. Andrew and PC Shaw knew immediately that this was the vehicle of the burglary suspects due to the registration number. As quickly, the people in the other car realised that the two men sitting in the unmarked vehicle were police officers—in a split second, the suspects made the decision to evade capture at all cost.

One of the suspects, likely the driver of the Seat, shouted at the masked person sitting on the quad bike to get off and unhook the tow rope. Afterwards, the masked man ran past the police vehicle from the driver’s side—where PC Shaw was sitting. Meanwhile, the suspects’ car passed from the left side just before Andrew got out of the police vehicle and began chasing the masked man. He was just about to grab the man when the suspect jumped into the Seat through the open front passenger window—it was then that everything went horribly wrong.

Just when PC Shaw turned to look through the rear window, he saw Andrew falling down. Apparently, PC Shaw later described Andrew’s sudden drop as “like a water skier coming off the rope.” And then, PC Andrew Harper simply disappeared.

The cameras inside and outside the police vehicle recorded PC Shaw’s puzzlement at what just happened. He reported the incident on the radio and, simultaneously, turned the car around and began driving towards the A4 and after the Seat. Soon, there was unmistakable panic in PC Shawn’s voice when he talked to the radio again, saying:

“Three-four. I’ve now lost him.”

PC Shawn had been sure he was going to see Andrew soon on foot, still chasing after the suspect—he likely did not see earlier that the masked man jumped inside the car. But instead of finding Andrew, PC Shaw saw debris on the road—when he stopped to take a closer look, he realised he was looking at Andrew’s stab vest. Nothing made sense at this point. How and why Andrew’s vest had come off? Meanwhile, two other police units responding to the call were at the junction of the lane and the A4—approximately 1 mile from where Andrew and PC Shaw came upon the suspects. The officers saw the Seat turning on the A4, and then they saw something else, as PC Christopher Bushnell described:

“I could see whatever it was, was swinging from left to right across the road behind the car.”

PC Bushnell said that he first thought that the car was dragging a deer carcass. But then, as the Seat crossed the A4 into Ufton Lane near Sulhamstead, the mass behind the car became detached, and PC Bushnell noticed a face, a human face.

At 23:30, PC Shaw heard a radio transmission saying that “there was a body in the road.” Immediately, he responded:

“That’s probably PC Harper.”

Just now, PC Shaw began to understand what had happened to Andrew within less than two minutes after confronting the suspects. The masked man had attached a tow rope to the back of the car so that it formed a complete, 6-metre loop. When the masked man on the quad bike had then disconnected the vehicle, the rope was left lying on the road for a moment before the suspects sped off—that moment was enough for Andrew’s feet to become entangled in the tow rope. So when PC Shaw had seen his colleague fall down and suddenly disappear, it was because Andrew was dragged away by the Seat.

The absolutely horrifying incident lasted for 91 seconds, during which Andrew was dragged for more than a mile at an average speed of 42.5mph. After hitting a curb, Andrew finally became disentangled—but it was already too late. His fellow officers did all they could to save his life, but due to his catastrophic injuries, PC Andrew Harper eventually died at the side of the road at 11:45 PM.

From that point forward, the focus was solely on finding those responsible for the unimaginable tragedy. Based on how they had prepared for the burglary and escape, the police believed the suspects were known thieves heading to the nearby Four Houses Corner Travellers site. Within a little over 10 minutes since the discovery of Andrew’s body, a police helicopter was on the scene and located the Seat using thermal imaging. The vehicle was parked inside their compound, out of the view of anyone moving on the ground but for air support, spotting the extremely hot car was an easy task. Within an hour, the police had been able to pinpoint three suspects, 19-year-old Henry Long and 18-year-olds Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers and arrest them on the site at 00:50 on August 16, 2019.

On the police’s bodycam video, you can see the young men behaving quite calmy before becoming visibly distressed after the officer told them they were arrested on suspicion of murder. One of the teenagers even asked the police:

“Does it look like I’ve done a murder? It’s upsetting, he’s calling me a murderer.”

It appeared like these young men did not even know they had just dragged a man to death behind their car. Meanwhile, 16 miles away in PC Andrew Harper’s hometown of Wallingford, someone was waiting for him to come home. When Lissie, Andrew’s childhood sweetheart and partner of 13 years, heard a loud knock on the door late that night, she thought her husband had simply forgotten his keys. Lissie and Andrew had married just four weeks earlier, on July 18, 2019, and this shift was supposed to be Andrew’s last before they would go on their honeymoon. But when Lissie saw another police officer standing outside her front door, she immediately knew something was terribly wrong. Moments later, after sitting down, the officer calmly explained to Lissie that Andrew had died—she did hear the words but could not understand them. As Lissie said:

“Those words were the most alien thing to me. I said to him, ‘but we just got married that can’t be truer.'”

A few minutes later, the officer informed Lissie that they already had people in custody. Until then, Lissie had thought Andrew had died from an accident—but now she was told there were people responsible for her husband’s death. It was like someone had just hit Lissie straight on the face for the second time. How could have she gone from the happiest day of her life to the worst day within just four weeks?

The following day the news of Andrew’s death spread in the close-knit community, leaving everyone in shock and disbelief. How did a young, brave and dedicated police officer die in such a brutal way? Andrew was known as a person with a strong moral compass, and as Lissie said, “he wanted to be this force of strength and act as a barrier between the people who do wrong in the world and those who need protecting from it. For all his life, Andrew’s goal had been to make a career as a police officer officer, which eventually began by joining Thames Valley Police as a 19-year-old in Andrew had been doing what he loved—there could have been a long, successful career ahead of him in addition to building a family with the love of his life.

But all that was ripped away in a senseless killing. The murder trial began at the Old Bailey on March 10, 2020. Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal a quad bike but denied manslaughter. In turn, Henry Long admitted manslaughter and conspiracy to steal a quad bike. All three denied murder. 

Due to COVID-19 issues and Thames Valley Police saying they had received intelligence suggesting possible jury intimidation, the first trial was eventually abandoned. A retrial began on June 23, during which jurors were played radio transmission and shown dashcam footage, including bloodied streaks on the road. The jurors also heard that PC Andrew Harper was likely—and fortunately—knocked unconscious in the initial fall. According to the post-mortem, Andrew had died of “multiple injuries”, including a “very severe” brain injury. When he was found, Andrew was without his uniform, which had been quite literally ripped away—you can only imagine what his body went through.

One of the biggest arguments during the trial was if the three young men knew they were dragging Andrew behind the car or not. All three denied having any knowledge, while the prosecution said the defendants must have been aware of Andrew, who was over 6ft and weighed 14 stone. But even if Henry, Jessie and Albert were completely clueless about what was happening behind their vehicle, they still made a conscious decision not to follow police orders and escape resulting in an officer’s death.

A month later, on July 24, 2020, Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers were found guilty of manslaughter, to which Henry Long had already pleaded guilty. On July 31, Jessie and Albert were sentenced to 13 years in prison, while Henry received a 16-year sentence. All three have since made appeals, but the convictions and sentences have remained.

Lissie Harper was not satisfied with the result of the trial, saying that a manslaughter conviction was not enough. She wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel to allow a retrial and get the murder verdict. In addition, Lissie launched a campaign for a new law which would require life imprisonment for criminals whose actions result in the death of an emergency worker on duty.

On November 24, 2021, the Ministry of Justice announced that they would introduce “Harper’s Law”, which says that “anyone who commits the manslaughter of an emergency worker on duty – including police, prison officers, firefighters and paramedics – while carrying out another crime unless there are truly exceptional circumstances” will receive a mandatory life sentence. The law was added to the statute book on April 28, 2022—it will not, however, affect the sentences of the three young men already imprisoned for killing PC Andrew Harper.

After the successful campaign, Lissie Harper, reflected on her future by saying:

“I know for a fact that Andrew would want me to be happy. And I can only tell you that if it was the other way around, I know that I would want him to meet somebody and have all the things that people are supposed to have. So yes, I do want to find happiness again”

Episode Credits: 

Host – Rhiannon Doe 

Voiceover – Kwesi 

Website layout & design – Fran Howard

NEWS ARTICLES & RESOURCES

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The Killing of PC Harper: A Widow’s Fight for Justice starts tonight

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