Dalian Atkinson’s head was kicked like a football by police officer, murder trial told

Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent
·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Allstar/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Allstar/Alamy

A police officer murdered the former Aston Villa striker Dalian Atkinson, first shooting him with a Taser stun gun for 33 seconds, then kicking him in the head as though striking a football, causing his head to snap back violently, a jury heard on Tuesday.

PC Benjamin Monk denies murder and manslaughter following the incident on 15 August 2016 in Telford, Shropshire, which began at the home of Atkinson’s father.

Monk is alleged to have also fired a Taser electrical weapon at Atkinson for nearly seven times longer than the standard five-second deployment.

Then, while Atkinson was on the ground and apparently unresponsive, the officer had kicked him in the head twice with such force that the imprint of Monk’s laces was left on Atkinson’s forehead, Birmingham crown court heard.

One witness, the jury heard, said that police “just started ‘kicking the shit’ out of him”. The jury were told blood from Atkinson was found on Monk’s boots and he had been heard to tell a paramedic: “He may be a bit bloody as I’ve had to kick him.”

Another officer, PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, is charged with assault causing actual bodily harm, which she denies. She is alleged to have struck Atkinson with a baton while he was on the ground. The jury heard the officers were in a relationship.

Atkinson achieved fame as a striker for Aston Villa football club in Birmingham. He retired from football in 2001.

Opening the prosecution case, Alexandra Healy QC told the jury that concerned neighbours had called police at about 1.30am, with Atkinson shouting and his behaviour being described as bizarre and erratic. Monk had used a Taser stun gun on Atkinson twice without any obvious effect. The former footballer had smashed a pane of glass and had been heard to shout that he was the Messiah and could not be hurt.

The jury heard Monk had fired the stun gun a third time, which felled Atkinson in the street outside his father’s home.

Healy said that a neighbour, Victor Swinbourne, had seen what happened: “He saw the male officer Taser the black male … When he fell he sort of collapsed, making no effort to brace himself.

“The male officer immediately gave him a couple of light kicks to the torso area using the top of his right foot. Mr Swinbourne described the initial kicks as tentative. He then saw the officer pull his right foot all the way back and give the black male a final massive and powerful kick, using the toe of his right foot as the male lay motionless on the floor.

“The officer’s leg went straight back and snapped forwards as though he was kicking a football. He described the motion as similar to the sort of kick that would have been required to move a ball upfield with significant force … He believed the kick was initially to the black male’s chest but given the strength of the impact it looked as though the kick bounced off the chest and hit him in the chin, because he saw the black male’s head snap back.”

The jury was told that Swinbourne saw Atkinson in a foetal position on his right side, with officers sitting on him as they tried to handcuff him. The court was told the neighbour heard “the black male make some horrendous noises. He described the noise as a clear breathing difficulty as if he couldn’t get any air into his lungs. He was shocked at how loud it was.”

Another witness had said they heard a male officer shout “keep your head down” before stamping on Atkinson’s head, Healy said. The witness had said Atkinson was not resisting.

The jury heard that when another officer arrived at the scene “he noticed PC Monk had his right foot rested on Dalian’s head”, the prosecutor told the court. Monk had been heard by two fellow PCs, who arrived later, saying he had kicked Atkinson in the head.

Healy said both officers would later say they had feared for their lives, and were so scared that they had at one point run away from the male, before tackling him.

Healy said: “At least two kicks were delivered by [PC Monk] to Dalian Atkinson’s forehead with enough force to leave the imprints of the pattern of the laces from the top of his boot on two separate areas of Mr Atkinson’s forehead.

“A number of neighbours living in Meadow Close witnessed this attack. Their view was that once Dalian Atkinson had fallen to the ground he was unresponsive and still. He was no longer posing any threat to the officers. Nonetheless the two officers set about him.”

Healy said Atkinson had underlying health problems, but the force used had contributed to his death.

“On the night of Sunday 14th and early hours of Monday 15 August 2016 Dalian Atkinson’s behaviour was disturbed and erratic,” the jury heard. “They were confronted with a man who was clearly acting in a disturbed and erratic way. They were entitled to use reasonable force to defend themselves or to protect another.

“The prosecution do not criticise their conduct prior to the discharge of the third Taser cartridge.

“However, when the deployment of the third cartridge was completely effective, causing Dalian Atkinson to experience neuromuscular incapacitation and fall to the ground, the prosecution say it was not reasonable to continue to depress the Taser for 33 seconds.

“In kicking Dalian Atkinson in the head not once, but on two separate occasions, PC Monk was not, the prosecution say, acting in self-defence or in defence of another. He was no doubt angry that he had been put in fear by this man.

“He chose to take that anger out on Dalian Atkinson by kicking him in the head … In kicking Dalian Atkinson to the head PC Monk can only have intended to cause really serious injury.”

The jury were told that just over an hour after the use of force by police, Atkinson was dead: “The pathologists and intensive care expert instructed by the prosecution agree that whilst his underlying health conditions meant that Dalian Atkinson was at a greatly increased risk of dying, were it not for the third Taser deployment and the kicks to his head, Dalian Atkinson would not have died that night.”

The trial continues.