Pc accused of using ‘excessive’ force on ex-player was ‘brave’, panel told
A constable accused of using “excessive” force for repeatedly hitting ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson with a baton during an incident which led to his death “showed bravery under extreme pressure”, a disciplinary hearing has been told.
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.
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.
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.
Addressing the opening of that hearing in Telford on Monday, Dijen Basu KC, bringing the case against Bettley-Smith, said Monk and his colleague were responding to a 999 call, arriving to find Mr Atkinson outside his father’s address, and appearing “in the grip of a psychotic episode”.
The three-member disciplinary panel were told Mr Atkinson was at the time “beset by health problems”, including end-stage kidney failure needing dialysis and significant heart problems.
Mr Basu said: “Police were called to reports a man was behaving very bizarrely, and frighteningly, in the street outside Mr Atkinson’s father’s home – he was very sadly in throes of a mental health crisis.”
“Mr Atkinson was a normally peaceful man in the grip of florid psychosis, and appeared – I stress appeared – to present a danger to others.”
Setting out the circumstances of the alleged breach, Mr Basu said Monk and Bettley-Smith arrived on scene at 1.36am, and after interacting with Mr Atkinson, Monk twice fired his Taser at the former footballer to no effect.
On the third firing, the Taser caused Mr Atkinson to fall to the ground after which Monk “kicked him forcefully several times”.
Turning to Bettley-Smith, Mr Basu said she had struck Mr Atkinson up to six times with her police baton, including “to his back and the back of his legs, about three times” after he had been kicked by Monk, in an incident lasting about five minutes.
“None of these blows was reasonable, necessary or proportionate, in the circumstances, either to defend yourself or another from Mr Atkinson or to effect his lawful arrest.
“All the blows were excessive.
“This conduct amounts to gross misconduct being so serious it amounts to a breach of standards of professional behaviour so serious, that dismissal will be justified.”
He added: “We say PC Bettley-Smith struck Mr Atkinson with her police-issue baton at least six times, with at least as much force as she could and each time, following each strike had the time and opportunity to reassess whether she needed to deliver another strike.”
He stressed Bettley-Smith’s blow “did not in any away contribute to the death of Mr Atkinson”, adding the hearing was “not about the death of Mr Atkinson”.
Mr Basu said: “In any event we say the force she used was unreasonable.”
Patrick Gibbs KC, representing Bettley-Smith, said: “She does not accept she misconducted herself grossly – or at all.
“She denies her conduct breached standards of professional behaviour, on a fair view of this sad but terrifying incident.
“Quite the contrary is true; she showed bravery under extreme pressure and was in no way responsible for the tragic outcome.”
He added Bettley-Smith “did her probationary best in unusually challenging circumstances to contain, control and detain Dalian Atkinson – a normally peaceful man, who, because he was the grip of florid psychosis, presented that night as a serious, immediate danger to his father, the public, responding officers and himself”.
The officer did “as she was trained to do” and her blows were “neither gratuitous, nor disproportionate”.
Victor Swinburne, a former RAF serviceman of 27 years, who lived in Meadow Close and witnessed the moment Monk kicked Mr Atkinson, attended the hearing to give evidence.
In a statement he gave, from October 2016, he described watching Atkinson Tasered to the ground.
He then watched Monk give a couple of “tenative kicks” to Mr Atkinson, before seeing the male officer “bring his right foot all the way back and gave him a final massive, powerful kick, using the toe of his right boot”.
He saw how Monk’s leg “snapped back and then straight forward as though kicking a football,” with the sort of force to move a ball up the field.
“I then saw the male’s head snap back violently,” he added.
Mr Swinburne said: “At the same time the female officer was striking the male with her extendable baton, hitting him three times to left kidney area.
“However, the male did not appear to make any movement, or protect himself from the strikes.
“Her strikes appeared to be forceful and firm, however not vicious in nature.”
Mr Swinburne said Mr Atkinson was “in the foetal position”, as the officers “then jumped on top of the male, leaned on the male, placing their own body weight on him, the male officer astride his torso, while the female officer sat astride his legs”.
“The male officer told the male (Mr Atkinson) to put his arms behind his back, but the male remained motionless.”
The eyewitness added: “The male started making some horrendous noises, I described them as a clear breathing difficulty noises.
“It was very loud, I was shocked how loud – like he couldn’t get any air into his lungs, he made it four times in total.”
Asked by Mr Basu if Mr Atkinson seemed a “threat to the officers”, after he was Tasered to the ground, Mr Swinburne replied: “No, because he wasn’t moving.”
The hearing continues.