A brave young police officer was killed ‘in the line of duty’ in ‘truly shocking circumstances’ as he attempted to stop three teenagers from stealing a quad bike, a trial heard today as all three teenage defendants were pictured for the first time.
PC Andrew Harper was dragged for more than a mile of winding country road, his uniform gradually stripped from his body, after his ankles got caught in a tow rope attached to the thieves’ car.
Henry Long, 19, drove at speed along the lane in Berkshire on the evening of August 15 last year, in such a fashion that the stricken officer was ‘swung side to side like a pendulum in an effort to dislodge him’, the Old Bailey heard.
PC Harper, 28, eventually became disentangled but died from his injuries in the road.
Long has admitted the manslaughter of PC Harper, but has denied intending to kill him. He is on trial for murder, along with Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, both 18, who were his passengers. All three were pictured for the first time today.
Prosecutor Jonathan Laidlaw QC said: ‘I’m afraid PC Harper was killed in truly shocking circumstances.
‘With his ankles caught in a strap that was trailing behind a car being driven along a country lane, he was dragged at speed for over a mile along the road surface, swung from side to side like a pendulum in an effort to dislodge him.
‘During the course of that high-speed journey, and until at last he became disentangled, his police uniform was quite literally ripped and stripped from his body.
‘Almost naked by this point, PC Harper was left as you can imagine with the most appalling of injuries, from which he died there on the road.
‘It was a senseless killing of a young police officer in the line of duty, a young man who was doing no more than his job.’
PC Andrew Harper was dragged for more than a mile of winding country road, his uniform gradually stripped from his body, after his ankles got caught in a tow rope attached to a car
Jurors were told Long, Cole and Bowers had been trying to escape police, having been caught in the act of stealing a quad bike.
Jury watches the moment PC Harper left car to chase the thief
Chilling footage from the police car played to jurors showed the moment PC Harper left the vehicle to chase the thief.
PC Andrew Shaw can be seen steering the vehicle in reverse while flashing blue lights before his colleague comes into view in the BMW’s rear window.
The abandoned quad bike can be seen rolling slowly behind the police car while PC Harper pursued Jessie Cole towards the getaway car.
The victim was likely knocked unconscious from the moment he hit the ground with a post-mortem revealing ‘very serious injury to the brain,’ the court heard.
PC Harper slid and lost his footing ‘as if while water ski-ing’ before being whipped forward by his ankles, prosecutors claim.
The trio had been undeterred by the presence of the homeowner when they returned to Privett House hours later, the court heard.
In a frantic 999 call just before 11.17pm Peter Wallis told the operator: ‘I’ve got four masked men outside my house and they’ve got weapons… Handheld things * handheld piece of wood or something.’
The trio made off down when PC Harper and PC Shaw confronted them head-on in their unmarked BMW.
Cole ran directly past the police car and dived through the backseat passenger window after the officer came close to catching him in the interception at around 11.38pm, jurors were told.
A post-mortem revealed the devastating effect of even the initial injuries, thought to have been sustained when the back of PC Harper’s head struck the ground.
Mr Laidlaw said: ‘PC Shaw’s description of PC Harper’s disappearance from his view, was that it was as if he had lost his footing while water skiing, in other words with the feet being whipped forward and his body being thrown back.
‘That as a description is supported by the findings at post-mortem, where the pathologist found that PC Harper had suffered a very severe injury to the brain which is likely to have rendered him unconscious, presumably from the back of his head striking the ground.’
The court heard homeowner Peter Wallis had reported masked thieves making off with the valuable Honda quad bike from his house in Bradfield Southend, near Reading, at 11.17pm.
PC Harper, known as Harps, and his colleague Pc Andrew Shaw, were in the area in an unmarked police BMW when they responded to the 999 call, more than four hours after their shift was due to end.
Mr Laidlaw said: ‘ Despite it being well beyond the end of their shift, because they were close and because thought they could help, they responded to the call.
‘It was going beyond the call of duty, as it were, and it would cost Andrew Harper his life.’
Mr Laidlaw said the defendants attached a strap between their Seat Toledo and the handlebars of the quad bike.
He said: ‘What we suggest will become clear to you from the evidence was that this was not some sort of opportunistic or spur of the moment theft committed by these three young men.
‘They had thought through and carefully planned the offence.
‘Of one thing the prosecution will say you can be sure is this: at whatever the cost, these three defendants were quite determined that they should get away without being caught.’
Mr Laidlaw said Pcs Harper and Shaw, in an unmarked BMW, drove onto Admoor Lane where they came face-to-face with the Seat Toledo, driven by Long.
But he said there would have been nothing from the appearance of the BMW to tell the defendants that there were two police officers inside.
In the next 15 seconds Cole removed the loop of strapping from the handlebars of the quad bike, Mr Laidlaw told the court.
With the strapping laying loose on the ground, Cole then tried to get into the Seat car but was unable to, he said.
The policemen switched their blue and white emergency lights on, and PC Harper ran to intercept Cole – coming ‘pretty close’ to grabbing the suspect – before Cole ‘dived’ through one of the windows.
Describing the moment PC Harper got caught in the strapping, prosecutor Jonathan Laidlaw told jurors: ‘What of course PC Harper had not seen, but each of these defendants would have known, was that the loop of strapping now on the ground and being dragged behind the Seat was still attached to the hinge of the boot lid of the vehicle.
‘With Jessie Cole now in the car, Henry Long drove off at speed, flooring the accelerator to make good their escape.
‘Tragically, at that very moment and still in the act of chasing Jessie Cole down, PC Harper must have quite unwittingly stepped, with both feet, into the loop made of the strapping trailed behind the Seat.
‘Henry Long, sped off, PC Harper was lassoed around his ankles by the loop of the strap. It will be obvious to you all that none of the defendants could possibly have intended that that should happen.
A sketch by court artist Elizabeth Cook of (left to right) Henry Long, 19, Albert Bowers, 18, and Jessie Cole, 18, as they sit in the dock at the Old Bailey in London yesterday
‘But the prosecution case is that it must have been very quickly clear to Henry Long, who was after all at the wheel of the car, that the vehicle was now dragging somebody behind it.’
Mr Laidlaw said all three defendants should have known the consequences of their actions.
‘The officer would be killed. It would be a virtual certainty,’ the prosecutor said.
‘How could he possibly survive if the car continued to be driven away and for some distance?’
He said there was no evidence Bowers or Cole attempted to persuade Long to stop the vehicle.
Mr Laidlaw said: ‘Henry Long continued to drive at speed for the next mile or so and he drove in a manner calculated to dislodge or shake the officer free from the strapping.
PC Harper with his sister-in-law Kate and his wife Lissie on their wedding day, just four weeks before his death
‘The three, effectively acting together as one, were determined to make good their escape at whatever the cost and regardless of the harm that anybody standing in their way may come to.’
Prosecutor Jonathan Laidlaw said Long drove at an average speed of at least 42.5mph down the windy road.
He said: ‘The snaking trail of marks, abrasion and scuff marks, blood and body matter left behind on the road surface, as well as the clothing that was ripped from PC Harper as he was dragged to his death, illustrates that a deliberate attempt was made to dislodge him from the strap.’
He continued: ‘The prosecution’s position is that the idea that they did not know that it was the policeman who had become entangled in the strap and was being dragged down that country lane behind their speeding car can be resoundingly rejected.’
The scene near Sulhamstead in Berkshire, where PC Harper was killed on August 15, 2019
The prosecutor said Pc Andrew Shaw, Pc Andrew Harper’s colleague, ‘quickly realised something was very wrong’ when PC Harper disappeared from view while trying to apprehend the suspect.
Pc Shaw turned his vehicle around, expecting to find PC Harper waiting for him.
Instead, he came across what turned out to be PC Harper’s stab vest in the road, which had been torn from him.
Pc Shaw later discovered his colleague’s body.
Mr Laidlaw said: ‘PC Harper was completely naked apart from his socks, the heavy boots he was wearing and some ripped shreds of the trousers of his police uniform, which remained attached to his body.
‘He was barely alive and PC Harper died soon after where he lay in Ufton Lane in the company of fellow officers who had tried desperately to save him.’
An aerial view of police tents at the scene in Berkshire where PC Harper was killed last year
Mr Laidlaw said the three defendants failed in their initial attempt to steal the quad bike, valued at £10,000, on the afternoon PC Harper died, having been confronted by the homeowner.
But they returned at around 11.10pm wearing masks.
Mr Laidlaw told the jury: ‘The defendants were not to be deterred and, as I have suggested, on this second occasion, having been forewarned from their first visit that there was at least one individual at the address, they were ready, if the occasion arose, for a confrontation.
‘They were determined to steal the quad bike but also, as we will see, to escape without being caught.’
Mr Laidlaw said the homeowner contacted the emergency services, saying there were masked men holding ‘weapons’, trying to take his quad bike.
PC Harper’s funeral service at Christ Church Cathedral in St Aldate’s, Oxford, in October 2019
The court heard three crowbars, some cutters, a large axe and a hammer were discovered in the boot of the Seat when it was later searched by police.
The prosecutor said: ‘What is clear, submit the prosecution, is the defendants had travelled to (the home) with tools with them, which could easily be used as weapons if they were confronted either by the householder or indeed by anyone else, including the police, who stood in the way of their escape.’
The suspects drove off, with Cole on the quad bike, the court heard.
Moments later, they came face-to-face with PC Harper and his colleague PC Andrew Shaw.
Mr Laidlaw said the Seat and the unmarked BMW carrying PC Harper and his colleague came face-to-face at 11.28pm on Admoor Lane, a single carriageway.
Moments later, Long drove onto a verge to get around the BMW, just as PC Shaw turned on the emergency lights.
Flowers for PC Harper at the Thames Valley Police Training Centre in Sulhamstead last August
The prosecutor said: ‘It is obvious, so the prosecution would suggest, that the defendants already knew or suspected it was an unmarked police car which had confronted them, because Jessie Cole, either at his own initiative or as a result of an instruction, had unhitched the loop of strapping from the quad bike.
‘So, the prosecution’s position is that by 11.28:38, when the emergency lights went on and the Seat was passing literally within touching distance of the BMW, it would have been obvious to all three of the defendants that they were being confronted by the police and facing arrest.
‘They had, in effect, been caught red-handed towing the quad bike.’
Mr Laidlaw said the thieves had not loosened the other end of the strapping, meaning there was a long loop being dragged behind the Seat.
Cole, from Aldermaston, and Bowers and Long, both from Mortimer, Reading, have admitted conspiring to steal the quad bike but deny murder.
Jurors have been told the case is being re-tried after the original trial, which began in February, was abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Yesterday, judge Mr Justice Edis described the victim as a ‘brave young’ officer, but told jurors they must decide the case in a ‘fair-minded and clear-sighted’ way, despite any thoughts of ‘admiration’ for PC Harper’s actions on the night he died.
The trial continues and is due to last up to five weeks.