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Offenders who kill officers will get life as Harper's Law confirmed

Offenders who kill officers on duty will get mandatory life sentences, following the successful campaign by PC Harper’s widow.

Harper’s Law will be added to the statute book, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed following an intensive campaign by Lissie Harper which Justice Secretary Dominic Raab described as 'remarkable.'

The government confirmed new legislation will extend mandatory life sentences to anyone who commits the manslaughter of an emergency worker on duty while carrying out another crime - unless there are truly exceptional circumstances.  

The emergency worker does not need to be aware that that offence had taken place or be responding directly to it. Judges will have the option to impose a different sentence if there are "exceptional circumstances which relate to the offender or the offence which would make it unjust to apply the minimum sentence."

The announcement follows more than a year of intense campaigning by the widow of PC Andrew Harper, who was killed in the line of duty in 2019. She was backed by the Police Federation and her lobbying work was supported by the senior team of Thames Valley Police Federation.

Lissie Harper said: “I am delighted that it will soon become a reality. “It’s been a long journey and a lot of hard work. I know Andrew would be proud to see Harper’s Law reach this important milestone.” 

Henry Long, Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers each received custodial sentences of between 13 and 19 years in prison for PC Harper’s manslaughter. 

Long was given a 19-year extended determinate sentence (EDS). This is composed of 16 years in custody (unless his release on licence is ordered by the Parole Board at the two thirds point) and an additional three years on extended licence to bring it to a total of 19 years. Long would be liable to be recalled to custody at any point when he is on probation if he were to reoffend, or breach his licence conditions.

An appeal by the Attorney General last year to increase their time behind bars was rejected.

But by then Lissie Harper's campaign had already gained momentum with support confirmed from politicians and the National Police Chiefs' Council.

The new offence will cover National Crime Agency officers, prison officers, custody officers, firefighters and paramedics.

Courts must already impose life sentences for murder, with a whole-life order being the starting point if the victim is a police officer.

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 introduced a statutory aggravating factor which means judges must also consider tougher sentences for offences such as manslaughter, GBH or sexual assault – if the victim was an emergency worker. And the tariff is set to be increased to two years.

Lissie Harper said: “I would also like to thank my incredible Harper’s Law team as well as the public for their unstinting support for such an important campaign. Those who believed that the right thing is worth doing despite the hurdles and challenges that we needed to be overcome. 

“And for the families of those that this Law will provide justice for, we’re almost there. Your continued support has kept me pushing forward.”

The new offence and tougher tarrifs should go some way to reducing the wave of assaults on officers which last year passed 37,000 cases.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: "Those who seek to harm our emergency service workers represent the very worst of humanity and it is right that future killers be stripped of the freedom to walk our streets with a life sentence.”

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