Hartley was raised in Lydiate, Merseyside on the outskirts of Liverpool where his famaily ran a market garden. He began his athletic career at age 13 as a high jumper. By age 18 he held the Under-19 record for 400m hurdles (52.9 seconds). Following success in national and international competition, Hartley won a Silver Medal at the 1974 British Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand and then a Gold Medal at the European Games in Rome in the 400m relay.
In 1977 Hartley married fellow athlete Donna Hartley. The marriage later ended in divorce.
An achilles tendon problem ended his running career in 1982, after which he became a sprint coach and conditioner for Widnes Rugby League Club and then Wigan Rugby League Club.
Hartley now runs the family floriculture business in Lydiate.