The killers of PC Andrew Harper had a lifestyle “based on criminality” and thought they were untouchable, the detective who led the hunt for them has said.
Detective Superintendent Stuart Blaik strongly criticised the tight-knit Traveller community that failed to assist police despite the horrific circumstances of PC Harper’s death.
The three killers were jailed for manslaughter yesterday as PC Harper’s widow, Lissie, told of her “endless world of numb despair”.
Villagers in the prosperous area of Berkshire had described being tormented by the gang, who committed burglaries and vandalism and sped around the narrow country lanes.
Mr Blaik described his frustration at the lack of co-operation from the community. Henry Long, 19, the leader of the gang, “admitted they had been thieving most days”, Mr Blaik said. “Their lifestyle was based on their criminality. Long said his grandfather was a thief and his father was a thief and he has followed in their footsteps and that’s how he funds his life.”
The raid that led to PC Harper’s death had been meticulously planned at the Four Houses Corner Travellers’ site in Burghfield Common, Berkshire. The gang returned to the site, which is run by West Berkshire council, after dragging the young officer to his death.
“None of them lived on that particular site but they had strong family connections and it was certainly the focal point of where their criminality started and finished,” Mr Blaik said. He added that the police had received no help from the Traveller community. “We knew it was going to be difficult and it proved very difficult,” he said. “The lack of support has frustrated what we were trying to do.”
When Long was arrested after the getaway car was found at the Four Houses Corner site he complained that he was a victim of discrimination against Travellers, the court was told.
“If something happened and the car was found, say for instance in a housing estate, would everyone in that housing estate get arrested?” he said, the court heard. “Or is it just a gypsy site where a car gets found, everyone gets arrested?”
Despite the gang’s admission that they went out every day to commit crimes, they had few convictions and none had ever been jailed. Long was convicted of battery in 2017, and again the following year. Two months before PC Harper’s death he was given a three-month discharge for being drunk on a highway.
Albert Bowers, 18, left school at 11. He was convicted of criminal damage in 2016, and was given a youth rehabilitation order for sexual assault in 2018. In April last year he was given a six-month referral order for causing racially aggravated distress.
Jessie Cole, 18, left school at 14 and was the only one without a criminal record.
Mr Justice Edis described the gang as “young, unintelligent, but professional criminals”.
“None of them had any real education,” he said. “Their parents appear to have taken them out of school far too young.
“They were in the habit of going out thieving cars at night. In Long’s case it was his only source of income, he never having done an honest day’s work in his life or, it seems, ever thought he should.”