A police officer died in ‘truly shocking circumstances’ after being dragged behind a car by his ankles for more than a mile, the Old Bailey heard.
PC Andrew Harper sustained ‘absolutely catastrophic, unsurvivable injuries’ after responding to the reported theft of a quad bike from a home near the village of Sulhamstead in Berkshire. His feet became lassoed in the loading strap used to tow the bike as the thieves sped off, jurors were told.
Prosecutor Brian Altman QC said the 28-year-old’s uniform was ‘quite literally ripped and stripped from his body’ as he was thrown ‘from side to side like a pendulum in an effort to dislodge him’.
Henry Long, 18, from Reading, and two 17-year-olds, who cannot be named for legal reasons, all deny murdering the Thames Valley Police officer in August last year.
Opening the case against the teenagers, Mr Altman said: ‘Late at night, on Thursday August 15 of last year, in Berkshire, 28-year-old Andrew Harper, a serving police constable of Thames Valley Police, was killed in truly shocking circumstances.
‘With his ankles caught in a strap that was trailing behind a car being driven at speed along a country lane, he was dragged for over a mile along the road surface, swung from side to side like a pendulum in an effort to dislodge him, losing items of his police uniform along the way, with the rest of his uniform being quite literally ripped and stripped from his body.
‘When, at last, he became disentangled, he was left with the most awful injuries, from which he died there on the road, surrounded by colleagues who tried in vain to save him.’
PC Harper, known as ‘Harps’ to his colleagues, was part of Thames Valley’s Roads Policing Unit, and had been due to work a 10am to 7pm shift that day.
He was still on duty with crew mate PC Andrew Shaw at 11.17pm, and they were driving in an unmarked police BMW fitted with emergency lights.
The pair, who were both wearing uniform, answered the call to the reported theft of the quad bike although it was past the end of their shift.
Mr Altman said: ‘Despite it being well beyond the end of their shift, because they were close and thought they could help, they responded to the call. It was a decision that was to cost Andrew Harper his life.’
He told jurors the three defendants had ‘carefully planned’ the theft, visiting the home of owner Peter Wallis earlier that day and taking steps to avoid being caught by police.
The prosecutor added: ‘It is perfectly clear that all three had thought about and carefully planned this criminal enterprise. There was no point going to all this effort to steal a brand new, valuable quad bike only to be caught.
‘They had clearly reckoned with the risk they might be stopped by the police.
‘Not only did they wear gloves and disguise themselves with masks, but also they had disconnected all the rear light clusters to the car – brake, side and indicator lights – so that in any pursuit along dark country lanes they could disappear into the night, without trace, as had been their plan.’
The court heard the officers were driving along a country lane, Lambdens Hill, on their way to the call when they met a Seat Toledo, driven by Long, coming the other way.
One of the 17-year-olds was in the passenger seat, and the other was riding the quad bike which was being towed behind the car, attached to the boot lid hinge with a crane strap that formed a loop, it was said.
As the cars met, the teen on the quad bike leapt off, disconnected the strap from the bike and tried unsuccessfully to jump into the passenger door of the Seat as Long began to drive off, jurors heard.
PC Harper’s feet became encircled in the loop as he tried to stop him and he was dragged along behind the car when it pulled away.
The court heard that Long drove at an average speed of 42.5mph, leaving a snaking trail of tyre marks, blood and clothing as he swerved across the country lane.
A driver who had to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting the Seat as it crossed the A4 mistakenly thought PC Harper was an injured deer.
Mr Altman said: ‘At first he thought there was a bloodied deer attached to the car, but quickly realised it was a person, trapped by both ankles, being dragged around the road and striking the kerb.’
PC Harper was barely alive when he was found by his crew mate, and had suffered ‘absolutely catastrophic, unsurvivable injuries’, the court heard.
The trial continues.