Dalian Atkinson’s family condemns justice system for six-year delay


Dalian Atkinson’s family have criticised police for taking the life of their loved one and condemned the justice system for taking six years to complete criminal trials of officers involved.

The former Premier League footballer died in August 2016 after a clash with two officers in Telford, Shropshire, during which he was shot with a stun gun for 33 seconds and kicked in the head.

The trial of PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, who was accused of beating Atkinson with a baton, ended on Wednesday with her acquittal, meaning legal restrictions covering the case no longer apply.

After the conclusion of the criminal cases, Atkinson’s family told the Guardian of their pain, exacerbated by the time it had taken: “Whilst we are disappointed in today’s verdict, it brings an end to legal processes which have lasted over six years. Not a day has gone by since Dalian’s death in August 2016 when we haven’t thought that if it hadn’t been for the actions of the police, he might still be with us now.

“Six years is far too long for any grieving family to have to wait to achieve closure… Delay in getting accountability for bereaved families under our criminal justice system is unacceptable: the IOPC [Independent Office for Police Conduct] and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] must do better.”

Last June PC Benjamin Monk was convicted of Atkinson’s manslaughter, and is now serving an eight-year sentence. The case attracted comparisons to George Floyd’s killing by police in the US, with excessive violence resulting in death. The family pointed out that while Floyd’s death came after Atkinson’s, the officer involved was tried and convicted within a year.

Monk had been previously found by a police disciplinary hearing in 2011 to have committed gross misconduct but was allowed to remain an officer and given a stun gun.

Atkinson was kicked with such force that his blood was found in the laces of Monk’s police-issued boots, and imprints from them were found on the forehead of the former Aston Villa striker. One witness said that when Atkinson was kicked while on the ground his head had snapped back. He was pronounced dead within 70 minutes.

On 15 August 2016, police were called to a disturbance with Atkinson acting in an erratic and out of character fashion having gone to Meadow Close, Telford, where his father lived.

The IOPC said Bettley-Smith has a case to answer for gross misconduct for her use of force, a discipline charge that could see her sacked. West Mercia police now have to decide whether they agree.

During the trial at Birmingham crown court, jurors were told Bettley-Smith, 32, struck Atkinson, 48, with her baton three times as he lay on the ground. Bettley-Smith told the court she used her baton lawfully as a last resort as she tried to control Atkinson, who she said was “actively resisting and trying to get up”.

Monk used a stun gun on Atkinson and kicked him in the head as he lay on the ground, while shouting “fucking hit him!” to Bettley-Smith.

The court heard how Atkinson, who played for Aston Villa, Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday during his professional career, was suffering from a number of serious health issues at the time of his death, including end-stage kidney failure.

Paul Jarvis, the prosecutor, said that when Monk and Bettley-Smith arrived on the scene, Atkinson smashed a window at the house and walked towards the officers, saying repeatedly he was “the Messiah”.

The defence argued Atkinson still posed a risk to the officers as he was trying to get up and Bettley-Smith’s actions were “reasonable”.

Amid continuing debate about police and race, Victor Olisa, a former Metropolitan police chief superintendent and head of diversity for Britain’s biggest force, said: “Policing cultures in the UK and US are pretty similar: the behaviour patterns and thinking process is the same. ‘I am facing danger, from a black male who is aggressive and they may kill me.’

“If you compare the both of them, they are both horrific ways for a human being to die. George Floyd with a knee on the neck, Dalian Atkinson tasered and kicked by a police officer. The level of violence is just unimaginable.“

Deborah Coles from Inquest, said: “We have seen in this trial a use of racial stereotypes equating black people with dangerousness and criminality.

“Language used by police when challenged to defend their actions reproduces the very myths and racial stereotypes that legitimised slavery with reference to ‘super-human strength’, and ‘unpredictability’ to legitimise violent and deadly policing.”

Monk has now been sacked and West Mercia police said it had implemented changes in the use of Tasers as a result of the incident.

The force has paid damages to Atkinson’s family. Assistant chief constable Rachel Jones said: “Dalian’s family and friends have suffered a devastating loss; this has been an extremely long and difficult journey and they have shown great dignity throughout.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “Following independent research into the causes of racial disparities in the police use of Taser, we will publish the findings of this academic work early next year.”

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Marta Lopez

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By Marta Lopez


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