The widow of slain PC Andrew Harper has pleaded for Mirror readers to back her campaign for mandatory life sentences anyone for who kills an emergency service hero, as she blasted the fact her husband’s killers could be free in as little as seven years.
Lissie Harper admits she felt let down by jurors and wants those who take a life – like those who stole Andrew from her just just four weeks after their wedding day – to pay the price.
“I’m not sure what happened to Andrew will ever sink in,” Lissie says. “It’s not really something that’s easy to come to terms with. Everything in my life is different now.
“Yet it could be 10 years or less and those who did this to us could be out on the streets living the same sort of criminal lifestyle.
“Whereas Andrew’s life has been robbed from him. It’s not right. And it’s despicable to think that is just how things are and we’ve accepted that for so long.
“It’s time to change that.”
PC Harper was killed when teenage thugs dragged him with their speeding car for more than a mile. He was left with such “catastrophic injuries”, that one witness mistook his body for that of an injured deer.
Devastated wife Lissie, 29, was then dealt a further heartwrenching blow when the three teens responsible – Driver Henry Long, 19, and Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, both 18 – were cleared of murder and sentenced for the lesser charge of manslaughter instead – meaning they could be back on the streets in as little as seven and eight years with time off for good behaviour.
Now, after enduring what would have been her first wedding anniversary and the first anniversary of his death, Lissie wants to right these wrongs for her beloved Andrew.
And ahead of meeting with Home Secretary Priti Patel next month, she’s asking Mirror readers to help back her petition for Harper’s Law, which will see anyone committing a crime which leads to the death of an emergency services worker get an automatic life sentence.
Asked if she was angry towards the jurors (one of whom was said to have cried after the verdict was read), Lissie laments: “I feel very let down.
“Somehow they didn’t see what the whole rest of the country could see.
“But I’m putting all my energy into Harper’s Law so that it doesn’t happen again, to someone else.”
Under her proposed law if any emergency services worker is killed as a direct consequence of crime, the offender should automatically spend the rest of their life in jail.
This means if a firefighter is killed in an arson, the arsonist would face the ultimate sentence.
Some may argue it’s a knee-jerk call for American-style “eye for an eye”, “string them up” justice.
But Lissie, backed by the Police Federation of England and Wales, stresses it’s about valuing those who put their lives on the line every day.
“When it comes to justice, America’s a whole different kind of world. And that’s the reason we doing Harper’s Law – to balance out what’s right and what should be,” she explains.
“The death sentence is a very, very different thing altogether and that’s not what this is about but obviously I want there to be much tougher convictions.
“If you take someone’s life, that’s it – pure and simple – you should pay for that. If you’re committing a crime and as a result of that crime someone is killed I think you deserve to spend the rest of your life in prison.”
She adds that her husband would be right behind her: “I know that he would be very supportive of Harper’s Law. Supportive is not all he’d be.
“He’d also be surprised,” Lissie admits.
“All this is not something I’d done before.”
That’s an understatement.
Lissie was once so timid about public speaking, she had a friend read out her wedding speech.
Now she’s speaks with great dignity.
She knows her campaign inside out, she shares stories of how content and happy she and Andrew were, and is an open book when it comes to the difficulty she’s had coping with the grief.
What happened on that fateful night of August 15 last year caused national outrage.
The childhood sweethearts, who had dated since they were 16 and grew up in each others’ pockets, had celebrated their fairytale wedding at Oxfordshire’s Ardington House on July 18.
They had their compact-but-homely one-bed cottage on the banks of the Thames in Wallingford, South Oxfordshire, a stone’s throw from their families.
And they were planning to start a family of their own after a belated honeymoon to the Maldives, planned for just a few days later.
But with one 999 call that all disappeared.
Committed Thames Valley police officer PC Harper was four hours into overtime.
At 10pm he rang Lissie to say he loved her and talk about her planned new design business.
Then just before he was due to sign off, a call came in about a stolen quad bike in Stanford Dingley, Berkshire.
As PC Harper tried to stop the thieves they sped off in their Seat Toledo, while his feet were caught in a tow rope hanging out of its car boot.
His fatal injuries left him so unrecognisible, Lissie was warned not to go to the morgue.
Her heartache was only compounded at trial when Long, Cole and Bowers, petty criminals from a travellers’ community in nearby Reading were found not guilty of murder.
Instead Long pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 16 years while the others were found guilty of the same charge and sentenced to 13 years each.
With good behaviour they could all be out in half that time.
“It wasn’t what I expected” says Lissie. “I just felt disappointed for Andrew.
“That’s all I could think about. How could these people take so much life and that’s what they’re faced with? It’s just not right. It’s outrageous.”
Lissie already has 500,000 signatures on her Harper’s Law petition with Change.org. Petitions have to be discussed by parliament if they reach 100,000.
But Lissie wants more to ensure her upcoming crunch meeting with Priti Patel goes well.
She says: “I would really appreciate the Mirror‘s loyal readers adding their voice to my vital campaign by signing my petition. And together we will achieve Harper’s Law.”
Police alone face 30,000 physical attacks a year.
And there’s a certain irony, that one of Andrew’s only bugbears about his dream job was the soft justice his collars sometime got.
“Andrew loved his job,” she says. “But police spend a lot of time out on the streets, trying to arrest people and get the right type of justice, only for them not get the sentence that they should.”
Andrew’s family are backing Lissie all the way. She’s still and always will be, part of the family.
But Lissie’s also under no illusion Harper’s Law is one of the only things helping her get out of bed in the mornings.
She spent nine months living with her parents after Andrew’s death and only returned to their cottage in May.
Andrew and her had planned to be hearing the little pitter patter of tiny feet by now.
Instead she woke on their wedding anniversary in July to see his toothbrush still in its holder, his clothes still in the wardrobe, but only his ashes in a wooden box for company. As for a baby, well, that’s now her campaign.
That poignant date was obviously horrendous.
“Oh yeah,” she says slowly. “I went for a walk and I got him some flowers and just remembered the happy memories we had from our wedding day. But, yeah it was hard.”
Has she brought herself to watch the wedding video yet?
“No, no, not yet. I think I will one day, but no I just can’t,” she says.
Nor can she get rid of any of his belongings. Or picture moving out of the cottage. And whether she could one day marry again is not even a seed of a thought.
The anniversary of his death was just as tough.
“It was the same pain as every other day, just more significant,” she says.
“I did all I could do – had a quiet day remembering him. I still can’t believe it’s been a year.”
Does she still think about the what ifs?
“A little bit,” she admits.
“He told me once ‘Death is just another adventure’.
There’s definitely comfort in that.”
Lissie has had some positive news recently in that the offenders’ sentences are to be reviewed by the Attorney General who felt they are too lenient.
But at the same time Cole and Bowers are appealing which Lissie describes as “quite ludicrous.”
Speaking on Wednesday, she adds: “They need to be punished for what they’ve done and what they’ve taken. I don’t think they understand quite what that is, but actually, it’s immense.”
Lissie doesn’t fear any recrimination for her stance.
“I won’t be beaten by them,” she says. “In the hard times I still talk to Andrew. I tell him that I miss him and I love him.
“That’s what’s spurring me on. I’m doing this for him now. That’s what I’ll continue to do.”