Jurors at Pc Andrew Harper murder trial forced to self-isolate

23 March 2020, 10:58 | Updated: 23 March 2020, 11:31

Jurors at Pc Andrew Harper's murder trial have entered self-isolation
Jurors at Pc Andrew Harper's murder trial have entered self-isolation. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The jury in the Pc Andrew Harper murder trial has been discharged after three jurors were forced to self-isolate due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Justice Edis read a statement in court confirming his decision to adjourn the trial of three teenagers at the Old Bailey on Monday morning.

Last week, the jury dropped from 12 men and women to 10 jurors because two were forced into self-isolation over coronavirus fears.

[LIVE COVID-19 News - Monday as it happens]

The judge said the decision was made with a "heavy heart" after a third person decided to quarantine themselves over the weekend.

He said: "It is with great regret that I have decided to discharge the jury and to adjourn this trial.

"I have taken this decision with a heavy heart because I am acutely conscious of the need of those who loved Police Constable Harper, who would have been 29 yesterday, for this process to come to a conclusion."

Mr Justice Edis set a review hearing on 1 June to set a date for the trial to start again. It was one of eight Old Bailey trials to continue despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

The defendants will remain in custody until the fresh trial commences.

Henry Long, 18, and two 17-year-old boys were accused of killing Pc Harper in August last year.

The 28-year-old Thames Valley officer became entangled in a tow rope as he tried to apprehend quad bike thieves, jurors were told.

Pc Andrew Harper's colleagues paid their respects at the scene
Pc Andrew Harper's colleagues paid their respects at the scene. Picture: PA

He was then likely knocked unconscious as he fell and dragged more than a mile along country lanes behind a Seat Toledo car driven by Long, the court was told.

Colleagues desperately tried to save him but he suffered catastrophic injuries and died at the scene near Sulhamstead, in Berkshire.

Long, of Mortimer, Reading, admitted manslaughter and conspiracy to steal a quad bike but denied murder.

The two youths, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted conspiracy to steal but denied murder and manslaughter.

Pc Harper suffered catastrophic injuries at the scene
Pc Harper suffered catastrophic injuries at the scene. Picture: PA

Full statement from Mr Justice Edis

"It is with great regret that I have decided to discharge the jury, and to adjourn the trial. After rejecting applications to discharge the jury when it was necessary to discharge two jurors last week for reasons connected to the Covid-19 epidemic, I have now decided that it is not sensible to try to carry on.

"This is because a third juror is now self-isolating. Her 91-year-old father tested positive for the virus over the weekend and she is required to self-isolate for 14 days.

"When she contacted the court yesterday she was herself not suffering any symptoms and I very much hope that this continues.

"Although the law permits a trial to continue with nine jurors, this trial has not yet reached the end of the prosecution case and there are three defendants each of whom has the right to give and to call evidence.

"The trial cannot finish in the immediate future and the risk that we will lose another juror, or some other person who is essential to its continuation is so high that I have decided that it is no longer in the public interest to take the risk of continuing to convene a court.

"I also consider that a case of this importance should, if possible, be decided by a jury with more than nine members. That is a decision specific to this case and not of any application to any other case.

"I have taken this decision with a heavy heart because I am acutely conscious of the need of those who loved Police Constable Harper (who would have been 29 yesterday) for this process to come to a conclusion.

"I am deeply sorry for them. I know also that the colleagues who dealt with the events of that terrible night and who have given evidence will also suffer additional distress because of what has happened.

"I am also aware that there will now be a significant delay in the trial of these three young defendants. I said in court last week that this case will have a degree of priority once trials are able to start again, but the time when it will be heard cannot now be predicted.

"I am comforted by the fact that I am now taking the decision which all defence counsel urged upon me when the jury was reduced to 10.

"I also wish to say that I am deeply grateful to the jury, all 12 of them. They showed a remarkable level of commitment to this trial as the crisis developed around us, and that involved courage as well as public spirit.

"They appreciated the essential nature of trials of this kind, and put themselves at the service of the public to see it through, knowing the risk which that involved.

"I have discharged the jury, and the case will be listed on June 1 2020 for a review hearing. If it is sensible to list it before that, then that is what will happen. I hope that at the next hearing a trial date can be fixed.

"If there are any consequential applications, they should be uploaded to the DCS (digital case system) in writing today and I will deal with them on March 25 2020. I will hear them by Skype, and counsel may appear from home. I will be in court with the DARTS system recording what happens and the hearing will be open to the public. Defendants may attend by Prison Video Link.

"I wish good health to all those who have been involved in this trial and send everyone my best wishes to them and their families."

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