Lissie Harper reveals just how hard Christmas Day will be
Lissie Harper’s grief touched the nation when her PC husband was dragged to his death by three ‘savage’ teens. In her first interview since her failed bid to extend their jail terms, she reveals just how hard Christmas Day will be
- Lissie Harper has revealed realities of facing festive season without her husband
- She said it is actually the ‘happy times’ that she misses Andrew the most
- Court of Appeal recently refused to increase jail terms for those who killed him
The twinkly Christmas lights, which bedecked the outside of Lissie Harper’s family home ever since she was a girl, are missing this year.
It was the job of her husband, PC Andrew Harper, a ‘gentle giant’ standing 6ft 5in tall, to put them up. Since he was killed while on duty, no-one else in the family has had the heart — or the height — for this festive tradition.
Such a fan was PC Harper of the season of goodwill that, last year, four months after his death, Lissie, her parents, sister and niece couldn’t even bring themselves to go up into the loft for the 8ft tree. They would have been reminded that Andrew was the only person with the height to balance the star on top.
Nor could they bear to look at his empty seat at her parents’ kitchen dining table, where he had spent Christmases since he was a teenager, so they opted for a buffet rather than the traditional roast.
Lissie Harper (pictured) has revealed the realities of facing the festive season without her husband Andrew who was killed while on duty
This year, mainly for the sake of Lissie’s niece, Ellie, who is four — children can be great motivators at times of terrible grief — the tree is back and the family will sit down to turkey with all the trimmings tomorrow.
But the absence of Andrew — who always wished for a white Christmas, with childlike enthusiasm, and took great joy in making gingerbread houses with Lissie, his childhood sweetheart, and Ellie — will be no easier to bear.
‘People think that the sad times, like anniversaries, are hardest but, actually, it’s the supposedly happy times, like Christmas, when it really hits me and I think: “Andrew should be here with me”,’ says Lissie.
‘So, it’s going to be hard. But, because he loved this time of year — he was always upbeat and jolly, even more so at Christmas — I know he would want us to carry on celebrating it without him.’
Lissie (pictured on her wedding day to Andrew) said it is actually the ‘supposed happy times’ that she misses him the most
It’s going to be difficult. This week has been hard. Of course, there have been harder weeks — truly terrible ones since PC Harper, a Thames Valley police officer, was killed, dragged along a country road for more than a mile by a speeding car. But this week came another blow.
We are sitting at the kitchen table at Lissie’s parents’ home in Oxfordshire, the day after the Court of Appeal refused to increase the jail terms for those who killed her husband.
Henry Long, 19, the driver of the speeding getaway car, which dragged PC Harper to his death, was jailed for 16 years in July, after admitting manslaughter.
His accomplices, Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, both 18, and both passengers in the car to which Andrew became attached when his foot was caught in a strap hanging from the back while questioning the teenagers, suspected of stealing a quad bike, were given 13-year terms after being convicted at the Old Bailey in London of the same charge.
Lissie’s grief touched the nation when her PC husband (pictured together) was dragged to his death by three ‘savage’ teens
Lissie, like many others in the country, was appalled by the brevity of the sentences, believing that life imprisonment for taking a precious life, especially that of a man like Andrew who put himself at risk to protect others, would have been more fitting.
When Attorney General Suella Braverman QC gave her backing for the sentences to be reviewed by three judges sitting at the Court of Appeal, Lissie hoped justice would finally be done.
But it wasn’t to be: ‘I feel very disappointed, let down by our justice system and the inadequate laws in this country,’ says Lissie, who married Andrew just a month before his death. ‘Their sentences do not reflect the severity and barbarity of what they did to Andrew.
‘In a few years they will be out, celebrating Christmas with their families, something that Andrew will never experience again.
The one thing I have to console myself with is that their appeal for a reduction in their over-all sentences was also refused by the appeal judges and I don’t believe these heartless savages are the kind of people likely to exhibit the “good behaviour” which would see them released early.
It comes after the Court of Appeal refused to increase jail terms for those who killed Andrew (pictured with Lissie)
‘While there is no more we can do to increase the sentences in this case, the verdict has spurred me on to fight for Harper’s Law to be introduced, so that no other families of emergency services workers have to fight for justice for their lost loved ones, the way we have.’
Harper’s Law, which has the backing of the Police Federation of England and Wales, would mean that anyone guilty of causing the death of a serving emergency worker, while committing a crime, would be auto-matically sentenced to life in prison.
And since Lissie began campaigning for its introduction in August, even meeting Home Secretary Priti Patel, she has heard from countless frontline workers and their families, grateful that someone is now fighting for greater protection for those whose job it is to run towards danger, while others flee.
‘Priti Patel is a very passionate lady when it comes to the police and shares my belief that they aren’t given the respect today that they used to be,’ says Lissie.
‘She told me that what I’m trying to do is admirable and offered her support.
Lissie said about her husband’s killers: ‘In a few years they’ll be out, celebrating Christmas with their families, something Andrew will never experience again’
‘She said, a number of times: “You know we’re here for you and want to help,” so I will be holding her to that over the coming year. People have told me that getting a change in law is not going to be easy, but my view is that, just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.’
While there are days when it takes all of Lissie’s strength to keep up the fight — she is not a woman who craves the spotlight — her love for Andrew, and a deep desire to honour his memory, spurs her on.
‘Andrew, too, would feel let down by the justice system,’ she says. ‘He found it frustrating he and his colleagues worked hard to arrest criminals, for them then to be given inadequate sentences in the courts.’
Her husband’s killers, their faces beamed into the Appeal Court at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, via live video link from Belmarsh prison, showed no more remorse, she says, than they had at the initial trial.
‘They looked bored and as if they couldn’t care less about anything, including Andrew and those of us who loved him,’ says Lissie.
‘I felt sickened listening to their lawyers pleading their case for reduced sentences.
‘It’s outrageous they should be given the chance to try to get away with taking a life — their attempt says a lot about the kind of people they are — and that we are spending a fortune (the teenagers’ legal aid bill has topped £720,000) on their legal fees to help them do it.
‘It’s an extortionate amount of money, but the cost isn’t the most important thing to me, it is the lack of justice for Andrew.’
Attending court for the hearing, Lissie wore badges especially made for her, on her coat, bearing Andrew’s name and police shoulder number, one beneath a Union Jack, another in the shape of an epaulette and a third alongside a thin blue line.
Her husband had worn a similar badge on his uniform, in honour of a colleague, Simon Caddy, who was killed while off duty by a careless driver, who pleaded guilty and was jailed for his death, in 2017.
Lissie was in London for a meeting at the Home Office at the time of the Extinction Rebellion protests in September and many of the officers policing the crowds thanked her for keeping up the pressure for Harper’s Law. ‘I can’t believe it’s down to someone like me, with no experience in politics or the legal system to push for this change,’ she says. ‘But, so far, no one else has picked up the baton, so I’ve taken it upon myself to do it. Andrew would be proud.
‘I’ve heard terrible stories from various people in the emergency services who have been attacked, abused and spat at in the course of their duty.
‘They’re risking everything for us, surely the least we can do is offer some protection, by way of deterrents in law?’
Lissie’s parents’ home, the hub of the campaign for Harper’s Law, where the family moved when she was ten, her older sister, Kate, 12, and brother, Jake, six, is a warm and welcoming four-bedroom 1950s semi.
Downstairs is open-plan, a cosy kitchen diner with a wood-burning stove adjacent to a sitting area, which has two squishy sofas and comfy chairs, all of it perfectly tailored towards a nurturing and harmonious family life.
Andrew moved in with Lissie’s family when the couple were 18, two years after they started dating. Although Lissie and Andrew bought and moved into their own house — a small but idyllic grade-2 listed cottage on the bank of the River Thames, a 15-minute drive away — in 2016, her parents’ home remained the focal point for family gatherings, and holds many precious memories.
It was here that Lissie retreated, grief-stricken, for months after that fateful knock on her door — a fellow officer bearing news that her husband was dead, in the early hours of August 16, 2019.
Andrew’s terrible death at the hands of the three teenage ‘thugs’, who appeared ignorant to the gravity of their crime, smirking and clowning around when the jury was dismissed, at their trial earlier this year, devastated the whole family, including little Ellie.
She loved her uncle, looking forward to their trips together to the nearby sweet shop and to feed the ducks.
Andrew was very much welcomed into the heart of the family and mum Julie, who works for the Blue Cross charity, and dad Simon, who owns a car restoration company, loved him ‘like a son’.
Consequently, in common with many bereaved families coming to terms with the loss of a loved one, it’s clear that, when talking about Andrew and their grief, none of them wants to add to the still palpable pain of the others.
Indeed, while leaning on her mum, and appreciating her infinite moral support, it is only when Julie disappears from the room for a couple of minutes that Lissie, a tiny size 6 and, in stark contrast with ‘lanky’ Andrew, just 5ft 3in tall, appears relaxed talking about her own suffering.
Still, it is hard to imagine how she would have survived the past 16 months — navigating a global pandemic so soon after losing the love of her life — without them.
Given the couple were hoping to start a family, not only is it a huge tragedy that Lissie does not have her husband by her side this Christmas, but also there might, by now, have been another grandchild, and a cousin for Ellie, at the table.
Lissie prefers to direct her energies towards bringing about a change in law in Andrew’s memory, while a holiday with friends, to Budapest, together with weekends away, have all had to be cancelled, due to Covid.
Thankfully she, her sister and her parents formed a support bubble, meaning Lissie, who runs her business from home, hand-printing original artwork on clothes and accessories, never needed to be alone, even during lockdown.
The five of them will be joined by Julie’s sister on Christmas day when lunch and a walk in the beautiful surrounding countryside, will be followed, in the evening, by games. Card game Dobble and board game Rummikub are particular favourites.
One thing’s for sure, it won’t be long before someone shares a fond memory or anecdote about Andrew — no doubt something involving his giraffe-like height or insatiable love of food.
‘He’s still a big part of all our lives and none of us will ever forget him,’ says Lissie.
‘If we’re successful in getting Harper’s Law enforced, hopefully in 2021, Andrew’s death will not have been in vain and he will be forever remembered by the rest of the country, too.’
Lissie has donated her fee for this interview to The Gurney Fund (www.gurneyfund.org) and Flint House Police Rehabilitation Centre (flinthouse.co.uk).
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