Pc accused of ‘excessive’ force against ex-player ‘seemed reluctant’, panel told

A constable accused of using “excessive” force in repeatedly hitting ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson with a baton during an incident which led to his death “seemed reluctant” to strike, a disciplinary panel has heard.

Former Aston Villa striker Mr Atkinson died after being kicked at least twice in the head by West Mercia Police officer, Pc Benjamin Monk, outside the victim’s father’s home in Telford, Shropshire, in August 15 2016.

Eyewitnesses described him “stomping” on the victim’s head, with one calling the blows “ferocious”.

Monk, who had earlier Tasered 48-year-old Atkinson to the ground before delivering the kicks, was later jailed for eight years in 2021, after his conviction at Birmingham Crown Court for manslaughter.

Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith – known as Ellie – was then a probationary response officer who attended the incident in the early hours of the morning in Meadow Close, alongside her colleague Monk.

Dalian Atkinson death
Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith leaving Birmingham Crown Court after she was acquitted of assaulting Mr Atkinson (Jacob King/PA)

Bettley-Smith, accused of assaulting Atkinson, was tried alongside Monk, after she delivered three blows from her police-issue baton, after the ex-Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday forward had collapsed to the ground.

She was acquitted after a retrial in 2022, but the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found there was a gross misconduct disciplinary case to answer for her use of force which, if proven, means she could face immediate dismissal from the force.

The disciplinary panel, sitting in Telford on Tuesday, heard how Bettley-Smith and Monk responded to a 999 call, arriving to find Mr Atkinson outside his father’s address, appearing “in the grip of a psychotic episode”.

After Mr Atkinson was Tasered to the ground, three eyewitnesses – all neighbours in the road who were woken after hearing a commotion – also described what they saw.

Jean Jeffrey-Shaw, watching the incident from her bedroom window, said she watched Monk “stomping on Dalian’s head”, adding: “The female officer (Bettley-Smith) then took out her baton and began striking the fleshy part of his body, his thigh and buttock.

“I could not understand why because Dalian did not move, after he went to the ground.”

Mrs Jeffrey-Shaw described how later, Bettley-Smith tried to cuff the unmoving Mr Atkinson, but his “hands were limp, floppy and lifeless”.

She added: “The female officer appeared to be panicky and frightened, while the male officer looked calm, like he’d done this kind of thing before.”

Another neighbour, hospital cashier Julia Shilton, watched Monk’s kicks from her landing window describing them as “quite ferocious, and the sort you might see in a fight when people are really going for each other”.

She added: “I saw the female officer whacking the top of Dalian’s legs.

“It seemed a reaction led by actions of the male officer.

“It seemed as though she was following his lead.”

She described how Bettley-Smith was delivering the strikes as “like a jerking motion – she seemed reluctant to do it – a draw-back and pause each time; three or four times.”

Another neighbour, Janet Lewis, said Monk kicked Mr Atkinson in a fashion “very similar to a footballer kicking a football with substantial force”.

“Almost as if Dalian had been a nuisance to him and he wanted to get his anger out,” she said.

Dalian Atkinson death
Dalian Atkinson died after the incident (Karen Wright/Family)

She watched Bettley-Smith as she “took out her baton and struck Dalian”.

Mrs Lewis said: “It was with her right hand and with substantial force.

“She appeared to be angry and this was clear from the strikes.

“Even with my window closed I could hear the impact of the strikes on the clothing of Dalian’s body.”

She added: “The officers still went on to strike him multiple times in a violent and aggressive manner, which made me feel feel sick.

“It was in my opinion excessive and unnecessary.”

“He was not resisting the officers and did not appear to have done so physically at any point,” she said.

The panel also heard from Detective Constable Julia Hiller, then a uniform constable, who had responded to Bettley-Smith’s emergency red button alarm activation, causing all available colleagues to rush to the scene.

Ms Hiller said that over the radio transmission Bettley-Smith sounded “frightened… afraid, as if she didn’t particularly want to speak, because she didn’t want to raise an alarm – or wherever she was, she couldn’t speak very loudly”.

Ms Hiller described arriving and how, with colleagues’ help, she hand-cuffed Mr Atkinson behind his back.

She added: “It was eerie, it was bizarre.

“Because of Ellie’s behaviour on radio, we knew something was badly wrong, but didn’t know what.

“Then we have got there and been faced with what we’ve seen.

“It wasn’t the usual; fighting, someone coming at us, it was almost a controlled situation, but seemed like it had only just got under control – and then we got there.”

The hearing continues.