PC Andrew Harper was killed on August 15, 2019 near Berkshire while at the site of a reported burglary. Three teenage boys, Henry Long, Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers (all 18-19 year olds) were charged with manslaughter in July of this year.
In light of allegations of PC Harper having been dragged through the streets by a vehicle, the question on most people’s lips was: why were these boys not convicted of murder?
Perhaps the first issue that should be addressed is the difference between murder and manslaughter. Murder refers to when an individual intentionally kills another, and first degree murder requires the murder to be pre-meditated. Manslaughter describes murder in a situation where the perpetrator is defending themselves or others, and it can even be unintentional.
PC Harper approached the three teens who were attempting to steal a quad bike, and in trying to chase them he got caught in the towrope attached to one of their cars.
The officer died at the site and all three defendants were acquitted of murder in the following weeks. The boys were in possession of aggressive weapons and were set on stealing the bike, clearly “intending, if met with resistance, that serious harm would be caused to commit the offence of theft or secure their escape”.
It seems however, that there was intent and perhaps pre-meditation involved… so how was it that the defence were able to claim a “freak accident”?
Henry Long (19 years old), the leader of the group, received 16 years in prison, whilst Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers (both 18) received 13 years respectively.
All three of them were cleared of murder. It seems, however, that there was intent and perhaps pre-meditation involved… so how was it that the defence were able to claim a “freak accident?”
PC Harper’s widow has stated she is “immensely disappointed” in the outcome of the trials, not feeling that she has achieved true justice for her late husband. She believes that life sentences should be given to those who kill members of the emergency services. Since, she has launched the ‘Andrew’s Law’ campaign which aims to see such crimes ensure the perpetrators receive life imprisonment.
Perhaps retribution is not the answer, maybe we have a responsibility to rehabilitate these criminals and prepare them to re-enter society
Andrew Harper’s mother has recently launched a similar campaign which looks to demand a “mandatory” minimum of 20 years in prison for individuals who kill police officers. Both women are clearly seeking retribution, wishing the young men longer prison sentences and higher criminal charges. Understandably, the emotion generated by such a tragedy can cause those left behind to wish a life of containment and misery upon those who caused harm.
However, an alternative must be considered: perhaps retribution is not the answer, maybe we have a responsibility to rehabilitate these criminals and prepare them to re-enter society.
In the UK, the prison system is very much one dictated by retribution. Criminals are convicted and sentenced to years in prison where they are left to themselves, receiving no coaching or opportunity to develop themselves.
In England and Wales, the prison population increased from 44,000 to 60,000 between the years of 1986-1997 (Hurd, 2005), yet no reduction in crimes was seen – this shows that an increase in the number of people imprisoned does not by any means reduce the amount of crime.
In Norway on the other hand, the country has adopted a new approach to imprisonment. The Halden Prison is minimalist, with the aim of reducing psychological distress and the feeling of incarceration.
After five years of these reforms the recidivism rate fell to 25% in Norway, whilst in England the rate remains at 50% after a year of release
In the early 1990s, Norway’s Correctional Service decided to focus more on the building of character and connection with nature than pure retribution. Education and exercise are offered every day, and the role of prison guards, referred to as ‘officers’, is not to contain the prisoners, but to help them.
This system works, after five years of these reforms the recidivism rate fell to 25% in Norway, whilst in England the rate remains at 50% after a year of release.
We must be wary of these figures, as Norway has a much smaller population than the UK, but we can still appreciate the success of their system and there is definitely something to be said for their more holistic, peaceful approach.
Perhaps, especially in the case of PC Harper where the offenders were so young, rehabilitation is needed in order to put them on the right track. By putting those boys in prison, we make it far less likely that they will be able to re-immerse themselves into society again.
It may be argued that we should rehabilitate them, make sure that they do not end up in prison again within a year of their release, but such reforms are complicated and expensive, leaving the UK with the only response we know: retribution through incarceration.
Featured image courtesy of Geoff Livingstone via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
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