‘I sat by his closed coffin and told him I love him’: PC Andrew Harper’s widow Lissie reveals her torment as she shares heartbreaking last picture together with her husband one year after he was dragged to his death
A police officer at your door at 3am is rarely good news. When your husband is a policeman himself, and you have signed up to a life of kissing him goodbye each day, quelling the anxious voice in your head as you dash off a late-night ‘Love you’ text, or a sleepy, dawn ‘See you later’ as he heads off for a shift, that stranger in uniform is your worst nightmare.
Exactly a year ago Lissie Harper, a beautiful young newlywed — who was still awaiting her wedding video, who’d yet to go on honeymoon and whose ring still felt heavy, new and shiny on her finger — was woken in the early hours by a loud knock on her front door.
Befuddled with sleep, she opened the door and invited the officer in. ‘He said there’d been a road traffic collision and, as we sat down, I asked if Andrew was OK. He said: ‘Andrew has died’.
‘I remember saying: ‘Are you sure? But we just got married’. I realise that didn’t make sense but somehow, in my head, it made what he was telling me impossible to believe.’
But of course, it did make sense. Lissie, now 29, and Andrew, 28, had been married for just four weeks. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Her husband, PC Andrew Harper, a Thames Valley police officer, based in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, was killed in the most barbaric way imaginable — dragged by a speeding getaway car for more than a mile on country roads, until his body was so battered it was no longer recognisable as human.
So horrific was the crime that many tears have been shed for the brave young officer, even by those of us who never knew him.
A national outcry followed the ‘not guilty to murder’ verdicts — celebrated with whoops, cheers and pats on the back by his feral killers from the travelling community — as well as the shorter sentences handed down to them for the lesser crime of manslaughter.
In her first shattering interview, one year after her hero PC husband was dragged to his death by teenage thugs, Andrew Harper’s widow Lissie shares her heartbreaking photo album and rages
First love: Lissie and Andrew, both aged 16, the year she agreed to be his girlfriend (left) and aged 17 after joining college together (right)
Last picture: Andrew and Lissie at their best friend’s wedding just four days before his death
To mark the first anniversary of Andrew’s death today, and to launch her campaign for Harper’s Law, which would mean an automatic life sentence for anyone who kills a police officer or other on-duty emergency services worker, Lissie is speaking for the first time and exclusively to the Mail about the horror and heartache she has endured.
In the first of two emotional accounts, she talks of the huge vacuum left by her 6ft 5in, ‘funny, goofy, kind-natured and nurturing’ husband, her childhood sweetheart and the love of her life.
She also speaks of her steely determination to amend the law that means his killers will be eligible for parole in only a few years.
‘In killing Andrew, a good, hard-working, honest, loving man, they have taken a life that was so precious and subjected me to a life sentence without him,’ she says.
‘For this to be allowed to happen it’s clear that our justice system, supposedly designed to protect us all and which Andrew devoted his life to defending until the very end, is broken.’ Yesterday there were memorial services taking place across the Berkshire force area, to mark the anniversary of his death. A wreath was laid and a minute’s silence observed.
Andrew had wanted to be a policeman for as long as Lissie had known him and joined aged 19.
Albert Bowers (left) and Jessie Cole (right). Henry Long, 19 – the ringleader who was driving the Seat Toledo, seen deliberately swerving into verges as he dragged Andrew’s body along the road – was sentenced to 16 years in prison after admitting manslaughter. His friends Bowers and Cole, both 18, were each sentenced to 13 years for manslaughter, which they will serve initially in a young offenders’ institute. All were found not guilty of murder
Pictured left to right, Henry Long, 19, received 16 years while Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, both 18, were handed 13-year prison sentences after they were convicted of manslaughter
He had all the right qualities, she says. ‘He was clever and always very proactive and protective, as well as compassionate. He liked to help people. He also had a strong sense of right and wrong.’
Tall, dark and handsome to boot, to Lissie he was perfect — and she had no doubt at all that he was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. ‘Andrew and I grew up together so, losing him, I feel I’ve lost a whole part of myself.
‘I miss everything about him — the hugs, the kisses, him coming in and scooping me up, giving me love. It’s crippling. We had a honeymoon booked in the Maldives in September, which I had to cancel, and were planning on trying for a baby when we got back.
‘Andrew would have been a great dad and having a family with him is one of the many things his killers have taken from me.’
The raw hurt Lissie still feels over all that she lost is distressing to witness. A tiny, fragile young woman — just 5ft 3in and a child-like size 6 — you almost want to scoop her up and protect her from any more pain, just like her loving bear of a husband would have done. ‘When I first learned how Andrew had died, all I could think was: ‘I’m not strong enough to deal with this’,’ she says, her eyes filling with tears. In fact nothing could be farther from the truth.
Such special moments: Andrew got even closer to Lissie, both 19, when he moved in with her family
Lissie’s apparent fragility belies an inner steel which has provided her with the remarkable strength to first present the eulogy at her beloved husband’s funeral at Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral and later to read statements to the world’s media this past year.
To the horrified public who had followed details of the case, this quiet, dignified young widow seemed the very antithesis of the lawless, morally-devoid killers who sneered and jeered their way through court proceedings.
Henry Long, 19 — the ringleader who was driving the Seat Toledo, seen deliberately swerving into verges as he dragged Andrew’s body along the road — was sentenced to 16 years in prison after admitting manslaughter.
His friends Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers, both 18, were each sentenced to 13 years for manslaughter, which they will serve initially in a young offenders’ institute. All were found not guilty of murder despite widespread incredulity as to how any driver or passenger could not know the car they were in was pulling a man behind it — as the three claimed in their defence.
If they behave themselves in jail they may serve no more than half of these sentences, before being granted parole — a prospect which fills Lissie with dread.
Lissie described Andrew as ‘the kindest, loveliest, most selfless person’ after he was killed while trying to stop a burglary
Andrew Harper and his wife Lissie
‘It won’t be long before they’re out and they’ll still be young,’ she says. ‘They will be able to get on with their lives — a privilege they have taken away from Andrew.
‘The type of lives that they were living, committing crime and giving nothing back to society, was detrimental to everyone, and I’ve no doubt in my mind that when they are released they will go straight back to that lifestyle.’
Lissie last spoke to Andrew at 10pm on the night he died, having been asleep when he left for work at 6am. She’d been delighted when he said they should spend some money having a website put together as a shop window for her online design business, seeing it as further evidence of his faith in, and support for, her.
Lissie Harper, the widow of Pc Andrew Harper, leaves the Old Bailey after the sentencing
She fell asleep soon afterwards only to be woken a few hours later by that fateful knock on the front door. ‘At first I thought it was Andrew, that maybe I’d locked him out or something, which has happened before.
‘When I looked out of the window, I saw a man in a police uniform, and I thought maybe Andrew had come back with someone . . . that maybe he was there.’
When told the terrible news, Lissie remembers starting to hyperventilate and, fearing she was going to be sick, ran upstairs to the bathroom where she lay on the floor, sobbing into a towel.
Taking deep breaths now before she can continue, she adds: ‘The police officer came upstairs to check I was OK and I remember thinking, ‘He’s got a job to do, he needs to know I’m OK, so I’d better go downstairs’.’
The officer called her parents and as they were waiting for them to arrive, he told Lissie: ‘Ten people have been taken into custody.’ ‘I was very confused because, until then, I’d just assumed Andrew had been involved in a car accident on his way home,’ says Lissie.
‘I said: ‘What do you mean? It’s not murder though is it?’ And he said: ‘Yes, we think it was’. That made me even more distraught — it wasn’t an accident, somebody had taken Andrew’s life.’ They had, in terrible circumstances.
At around 10.30pm on August 15, 2019 — more than four hours after his shift should have ended — PC Harper and a colleague responded to a request over their police radio to go to Stanford Dingley in Berkshire where a group of youths had been reported stealing a quad bike.
Working late, to see the job through, was just typical of Andrew, says Lissie and happened a lot.
‘He wouldn’t have just palmed off on the next shift without doing his part,’ she says.
As he attempted to apprehend the thieves, Andrew unwittingly stepped, with both feet, into the loop of a tow-rope attached to the back of the criminals’ car, and as they sped off, was lassoed by his feet. He was pulled for more than a mile, and swung from side to side like a pendulum, along country lanes towards the A4 before eventually coming free.
His distressed colleague, who chased after the vehicle in their unmarked BMW — spotting PC Harper’s belongings, including his stab vest, en route — found him dead in the road having suffered ‘catastrophic injuries’.
PC Harper (pictured), a 28-year-old newlywed who was a traffic officer for Thames Valley Police, died horrifically August 15 last year
While Lissie’s family did their best to shield her from the horrific details of how Andrew died, she was told that she could not see his body. It was said to be so badly mutilated that one witness mistook it for a deer.
‘Not seeing Andrew’s body after he died has made it even harder for me to believe that he’s gone,’ says Lissie. ‘But I sat beside his closed coffin in the chapel of rest and told him that I loved him, that everything would be OK, and one day we’d be together again.
‘I asked if I could have his wedding ring because I wanted to wear it on a chain around my neck, but they couldn’t find it.’
To make up for it, her sister Kate, 31, had a heart charm on a gold bracelet engraved with ‘I Love you Lissie’ in Andrew’s handwriting which was copied from the notes he wrote for his wedding speech, delivered just a month earlier, on July 18. The couple exchanged vows in front of 50 relatives and friends, followed by an evening reception for an additional 30, in an outdoor temple at Ardington House, a Georgian manor at the foot of the North Wessex downs in South Oxfordshire.
Lissie, who was given a card from Andrew on the morning of the wedding which read ‘Life is slippery . . . take my hand’, looked like a Disney princess in her vintage-style dress, with lace detail and veil, while her groom, dressed in a navy-blue, three-piece suit, could have easily passed for her handsome prince.
In his handwritten speech, which Lissie has kept, he said she looked ‘more perfect than I could have ever imagined’ adding: ‘Lissie, you are without a doubt the closest example of perfection that I have ever encountered.’
Lissie was equally smitten. Shy of public speaking before Andrew’s death, she penned a reading that her brother’s girlfriend delivered outlining the many reasons she was marrying him, including: ‘I love your massive shoes (size 14) that you leave about for me to trip over. I love the little notes you leave me when you go to work. That you don’t mind sleeping nearest the door when we go away, just in case.’
Andrew’s protective, caring nature was one of the things that made Lissie first fall for him. He joined her secondary school in Year Eight and, employing an age-old teenage boys’ flirting technique, spent the next two years attempting to win Lissie over by throwing paper aeroplanes and notes with drawings of silly faces on them at her across the classroom. Lissie, then a pretty brunette, liked him from the start but, despite him asking her out countless times, insisted that dating would spoil their friendship.
Lissie with Andrew on their wedding day at Ardington House in Oxfordshire in the summer of 2019
It was a month after her 16th birthday, and two months before his, that she finally made Andrew’s dreams come true by agreeing to be his girlfriend.
‘He was very tall, already 6ft 5in, and lanky, with rosy cheeks and very shy, although he had lots of friends,’ remembers Lissie, smiling at the memory of the young Andrew.
‘He was funny, always goofing around and making me laugh, but also really kind-natured and nurturing, offering me his coat if I was cold and making sure I had enough to eat.
‘He was more mature than a lot of boys that age, he had part-time jobs and was in the Army cadets and, from the age of 16, he rode a moped to school.’
Lissie believes Andrew’s maturity and caring nature were partly the result of his early life experience. His mother left the family home when he was four and his younger brother, Sean, just one.
Thames Valley Police officer PC Andrew Harper, 28, (right) with a colleague
The two boys were raised by their father, at the same time as he was setting up a stairlift fitting company, and later their stepmum, Karen, mother to their half-sister, Aimee, now 21.
Andrew took his role as big brother very seriously, always looking out for his siblings and, throughout their 12 years together, also Lissie and her family.
The young sweethearts went to Henley College after GCSEs, Andrew to do A-levels in business and environmental science and Lissie to study art and design.
‘Those early days, they were carefree, as they are when you are teenagers. We had a big group of friends, and loved going to the cinema and things like that. And food: Andrew loved food — he would get through a lot of food, as I’m sure his stepmum Karen will attest!’
Aged 18, Andrew moved in with Lissie’s family — mum Julie, who works for the Blue Cross charity, dad Simon, 56, who owns a car restoration company, sister Kate and brother Jake, 24.
The couple, who took a sabbatical and spent seven months travelling around Africa, Asia and Australia in their early 20s, were 25 by the time they moved out of the five-bed detached, having saved up a deposit for their own home. Julie and Simon say they loved Andrew, who would cook, volunteer to empty the dishwasher and take advantage of his great height to change lightbulbs, ‘like a son’.
His and Lissie’s new home, a one-bedroom Grade 2 listed cottage on the bank of the River Thames in South Oxfordshire was small but idyllic, complete with original fireplaces.
‘We were so excited on our first night there in our new home,’ recalls Lissie. ‘We ordered a pizza delivery and had to eat it sitting on the floor as we didn’t have a table and chairs.’
Andrew, ever the traditionalist, asked Simon for his daughter’s hand in marriage during a family holiday in Norfolk in the summer of 2016. Simon, who had long introduced Andrew to friends as his ‘future son-in-law’ had no reservations about agreeing. However, the young officer took his time, enlisting Lissie’s sister Kate to help him choose the perfect engagement ring — an aquamarine stone set in rose gold and encircled with diamonds, bought at an antique jewellery shop in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.
Undated handout file photo issued by Thames Valley Police of 28-year-old PC Andrew Harper and his wife, Lissie
It was May 2017 when he finally got down on one knee and presented it to her, on a clifftop overlooking Italy’s Amalfi Coast in Sorrento.
Lissie recalls: ‘He said, ‘We’ve been together since we were 16 and I couldn’t imagine my life without you. I’d love us to be together for the rest of our lives. Will you marry me?’
‘I said ‘Yes!’ and we both laughed then Andrew, who filmed it all on his phone, had a little cry.’
Lissie was working hard establishing her fledgling linoleum print business while Andrew did regular overtime to help cover the outgoings.
This was a source of stress for Lissie, who admits to being anxious by nature and would lie awake at night worrying about not bringing in enough money. ‘We used to talk a lot at night because I’d be struggling to sleep, worrying about things, like wanting to be able to contribute more, and he’d say: ‘Quiet that monkey chatter in your brain, we’re a team!’,’ she says, smiling fondly at the memory.
‘Andrew had an enviable ability to just focus on the important stuff and not worry about any-thing else.’
Lissie breaks down recalling one night when she was struggling to sleep, worried by fears about her own mortality, when Andrew told her: ‘Death’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just another adventure.’
Both were big fans of adventures, from bungee jumping and skydiving to paragliding and swimming with dolphins.
There was nothing they hadn’t tried on their travels.
Looking through their photographs is bittersweet — Lissie hasn’t been able to bring herself to watch their wedding video, which arrived shortly after Andrew died. Following Andrew’s death, Lissie stayed with her family until May, before finally returning to her cottage after her mum suggested she adopt a British shorthair rescue cat, Bernard, who curls up in the double bed beside her, filling at least a little of the huge hole left by Andrew’s passing.
However, as a lifelong worrier, Lissie says that now the very worst thing she could have imagined has happened, losing the love of her life, she no longer lives in fear. ‘I used to worry about Andrew going to work at night.
‘Everything seems more frightening in the dark, and also whenever he rode a motorbike, although he promised me he was always careful, which he was,’ she says.
‘There were allegations that the killers’ relatives were intimidating jurors during the trial and then, on the day they were acquitted of murder, when I requested a retrial, my car was keyed.
‘I can’t be sure who did that but I do know that Andrew’s killers and their supporters would probably rather I faded quietly into the background. But I’ve no intention of doing that.
‘Sadly, nothing I do will bring Andrew back, but I know he would be proud of me for seeking to bring about a change in the law [backed by the Police Federation] which will hopefully act as a deterrent to anyone considering doing to one of his fellow frontline workers the terrible thing they did to him.
‘Those who are not deterred by it deserve to spend the rest of their lives behind bars, not be out walking the streets in a few years, as Andrew’s killers will be.’
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