The Court of Appeal has upheld the sentences given to the three men convicted of PC Harper’s manslaughter, despite the Attorney General claiming they were ‘unduly lenient’. This shows that judges will abide by sentencing guidelines, even where there is public pressure to impose heavier penalties.

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The facts of the case

In August 2019, Henry Long, Jessie Cole and Albert Blowers stole a quad bike, attaching it to the back of a Seat car with a strap. The theft was reported, and PC Harper and PC Shaw responded. They came across the Seat, which was being driven by Mr Long. PC Harper then stepped out of the police car to chase Mr Cole, who had been sitting on the back of the quad bike. Mr Cole jumped into the Seat which accelerated away, at which point PC Harper’s feet became entangled in the strap. He was dragged along behind the Seat and died of his injuries.

The men, who were all teenagers at the time, were found guilty of manslaughter. Mr Long was given an extended sentence of 19 years with 16 years’ imprisonment. Bowers and Cole were each given 13 years’ detention. At sentencing, the judge noted that Bowers and Cole were younger than Mr Long and have learning difficulties, making them more likely to follow someone else’s lead. The sentences fell within the range stated in judicial guidelines.

The Attorney General intervenes

Following sentencing, the Attorney General Suella Braverman said the sentences were unduly lenient. She claimed the sentences should be increased – meaning the judge should have ignored the sentencing framework provided. By way of explanation, she offered that PC Harper had met “a dreadful death when acting in the execution of his duty and for the protection of the public.” She suggested that Mr Long should have received life imprisonment and that the sentences had been excessively reduced on account of the defendants’ youth and learning difficulties.

The matter was considered by the Court of Appeal, which issued a written judgement.

The Court of Appeal’s decision

The Court of Appeal dismissed the challenge from the Attorney General, upholding the sentences given to Long, Cole and Bowers. The court found no legal basis for the Attorney General’s claims, as no explanation was given as to why the sentencing judge should have departed from the guidelines. As the convictions were for manslaughter – not murder – there was no reason why the sentences should be considered unduly lenient.

The Attorney General has been criticised for intervening in the case, which some say was motivated more by politics than justice. The Court of Appeal’s decision shows that sentencing guidelines will be followed, even where there is public pressure to ignore them.

Criminal defence lawyers London

If you have been accused of a criminal offence and need expert legal representation, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors. We act for clients across England and Wales.

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