Thursday, 17 December 2020

Manslaughter of PC Andrew Harper - Attorney General's application refused

A previous post (9 August 2020) on this blog considered the sentences imposed on three irresponsible young men - Henry Long, Albert Bowers, Jessie Cole. They stole a quad bike. It was a planned theft and something they did frequently. The quad bike was towed away from its owner's property. When confronted by the Police they implemented their escape plan.  This required them to disconnect the tow loop from the quad bike and to drive away at speed as soon as all of them were in the car. As they drove away, PC Harper was caught up by the loop which was still attached to the car. He was dragged at high speed over a considerable distance and killed as a result.

Henry Long pleaded

guilty to the manslaughter of PC Harper.  Albert Bowers and Jessie Cole were convicted at trial of the manslaughter.

Mr Justice Edis sentenced the three as follows:


    Manslaughter: an extended determinate sentence pursuant to Section 226A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comprising a period of detention of 16 years and an extended licence period of 3 years.

    Conspiracy to steal: 32 months' detention in a Young Offender Institution to be served concurrently.

    Bowers and Cole

    Manslaughter: 13 years' detention in a Young Offender Institution.

    Conspiracy to steal: 38 months' in a Young Offender Institution to be served concurrently. 

    Ancillary orders were made including the imposition of periods of disqualification for holding or obtaining a driving licence, the details of which we shall consider later.

Bowers and Cole applied for leave to appeal against their convictions for manslaughter.

The Attorney General applied for leave to refer the sentences on all three offenders (Long, Bowers and Cole) as being unduly lenient.

Long, Bowers and Cole also applied for leave to appeal against their sentences.

The Court of Appeal (Dame Victoria Sharp P, Holroyde LJ and William Davis J) heard the applications on 30 November 2020 - see the judgment (handed down on 16 December). 

The Attorney General's application:

The court refused the Attorney General's application. The court pointed out a "basic point" (para 63) - 

"No one doubts the seriousness of the offending in this case. No one doubts the importance of the fact that the victim was a police officer engaged in performing his duty in the service of the public. No one doubts the gravity of the harm caused, involving as it did not only the death of PC Harper in dreadful circumstances, but also the anguish suffered by his bereaved family. As the judge rightly said, PC Harper's family have the profound sympathy of the nation. The issues before this court must however be resolved in accordance with the law."

Next the court stated (para 64) that - " 

The judge had to sentence three young offenders for manslaughter, not for murder. Mere disagreement with his decisions as to the nature and length of the appropriate sentences provides neither a ground for finding the sentencing to have been unduly lenient nor a ground for finding a sentence to have been wrong in principle or manifestly excessive. The essential issue in each of the applications is whether the judge passed a sentence which was outside the range properly open to him in all the circumstances. In Attorney-General's Reference (no 4 of 1989) [1990] 1 WLR 41 at p46A. Lord Lane CJ stated that a sentence would only be unduly lenient "where it falls outside the range of sentences which the judge, applying his mind to all the relevant factors, could reasonably consider appropriate". The Lord Chief Justice went on to say that it must always be remembered that sentencing is an art rather than a science, and that the trial judge is particularly well placed to assess the weight to be given to various competing considerations."

The sentencing was examined extensively by the court and was found to be within the range properly open to the judge. The court noted that the Attorney General had effectively made an "unusual submission" (paras 83 and 84) -

  1. As to the length of the custodial terms, we note a striking feature of the submissions. When applications are made by the Attorney General for leave to refer to this court sentences which are said to be unduly lenient, it is frequently on the basis that the judge fell into error by failing to follow a relevant guideline. In this case, however, the argument advanced by the Attorney is that the sentence of Long, and therefore the sentences on Bowers and Cole, were unduly lenient because the judge erred in failing to depart from the relevant guideline.
  2. That is, to say the least, an unusual submission. It involves the proposition that in the circumstances of this case, a sentence within the guideline offence range was not within the range properly open to the judge, who was instead required to pass a sentence outside that range. We think it regrettable that, in advancing that submission, the structure and ambit of the guideline were not addressed. Nor was any sufficient explanation given why it is contended that the judge was not merely entitled to depart from the guideline but positively required to do so.

Other matters:

The application by Bowers and Cole to appeal against the manslaughter convictions was dismissed and stated to be "unarguable" (para 44). For the detailed discussion see the judgment paras 21 to 44.

The court made some alterations to the sentences. These corrected some errors but did not alter the length of the sentences for manslaughter. The court also amended the disqualification from driving orders.

In summary, the Court's orders were:

AG application refused.

The sentences for manslaughter passed on Long, Bowers and Cole remain in place.

Bowers and Cole given leave to appeal against sentence and their appeals allowed but only to a limited extent (see para 102) which does not alter the overall sentence imposed by the judge.

Long's application to appeal against sentenced was refused.

Applications for leave to appeal against conviction made by Bowers and Cole only were refused. 

Offenders aged 18-25:

There have been calls for a separate sentencing guideline for young adults (18-25) - see Howard League for Penal Reform 2018 -‘Sentencing Young Adults - Making the case for sentencing principles for young adults. The Howard League report is discussed at Youth Justice Legal Centre - A report on sentencing young adults. Further material is in this July 2011 report by Criminal Justice Alliance: Sentencing Young Adults: Getting it Right

How the law handles criminal cases involving young adults is a matter to which much more attention ought to be applied. For example, the Howard League has argued that formal sentencing principles for young adults aged 18 to 25 would assist the courts and improve sentencing outcomes.


Joshua Rozenberg 16 December 2020 - An unusual submission

UK Human Rights Blog 17 December - Sentences in PC Harper case upheld by Court of Appeal

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