United Kingdom

Police officer is found GUILTY of the manslaughter of Dalian Atkinson

Dalian Atkinson died on August 15 outside his father's home in Telford, Shropshire 

A policeman was today dramatically convicted of manslaughter – the first British officer ever to be found guilty of unlawfully killing a member of the public in the course of his duty. 

PC Benjamin Monk, 43, was cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter over the ex-footballer's death on a quiet cul-de-sac in Telford, Shropshire, in August 2016, after his claims to be 'terrified' Mr Atkinson could kill him and his 31-year-old fellow officer lover failed to sway the jury. 

The court had heard Monk had used unreasonable force while trying to protect PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, 31. The jury is still considering her assault charge over his death.

The historic verdict is a triumph for the Crown Prosecution Service who took more than three years to bring charges and secured the verdict despite the forensic complexities of the case. 

Former fan favourite Mr Atkinson, 48, had been suffering from mental health problems and paranoia at the time of his death, and shouted at Monk: 'You can put 100,000 volts through me, I'm the f****** messiah - your Taser won't work and now I'm going to take you to the gates of hell'. 

He was Tasered for 33 seconds and had two bootlace prints on his forehead after the incident in the early hours of August 15, which was witnessed by at least three horrified neighbours. He subsequently died of cardio-respiratory arrest in hospital. 

During the three-week trial, Monk told jurors he had acted proportionately in trying to restrain Mr Atkinson, saying he was 'absolutely petrified' of the footballer, who had a 'face was one of utter rage' and had told him, 'I'm taking you to the gates of hell'. 

However, prosecutors claimed the West Mercia Police constable used unlawful and unreasonable force during a third and final discharge of his Taser, which lasted for 33 seconds - more than six times the weapon's default firing time of five seconds.

They also suggested the two officers had used their police training to overstate the threat posed by the striker to justify their own actions. 

PC Benjamin Monk discharged a Taser on Atkinson and kicked him twice in the head, while PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith hit him with a baton (they are seen arriving at court today)

The jacket Atkinson was wearing at the time of his death, which shows blood staining and cuts made by doctors while trying to save him 

This image of Atkinson's t-shirt on the day of his death was also shown to the jury and released to the Crown Prosecution Service today 

A close up of Atkinson's clothing, showing blood stains and damaged threads after he was struck by the two officers 

Atkinson confronted police on this quiet cul-de-sac in Telford, Shropshire, in August 2016. Pictured is the emergency services response on the night 

Football star Atkinson was known as a fans' favourite and played for Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town

The court heard Mr Monk was trying to protect PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, 31, (seen right outside court earlier in the case)

Mr Monk kicked the footballer so hard after the Taser felled him that forensic tests showed the patterns of his laces embedded in Mr Atkinson’s head, the court heard

Atkinson's father's home - near to which he died on August 15, 2016 - is combed by forensic officers after the tragedy 

In her closing speech to a jury at Birmingham Crown Court, Alexandra Healy QC described aspects of the two officers' accounts as a 'story that goes against the evidence', as she pointed to inconsistencies in their recollections.

In a post-incident interview, Monk said he believed the ex-footballer was 'very, very obviously attempting to get up', before he kicked him once on the shoulder.

But following evidence that Mr Atkinson had actually been kicked twice in the head, his defence barrister later told Birmingham Crown Court the officer did not dispute this - but only did so because he was 'terrified' that he was about to be attacked.

Earlier the trial heard that Monk colluded with Bettley-Smith, a junior colleague, to lie about the episode.

The pair were called to the home of the former Aston Villa and Ipswich Town striker's father on August 15 by neighbours after Mr Atkinson arrived there in the early hours in a disturbed and erratic state, the jury were told.

Mr Atkinson had been banging on his father's door threatening to kill both him and his own brothers when officers arrived to confront him after being called by worried neighbours.

Monk told the jury he was 'terrified' that he and Bettley-Smith - who began a relationship a year before Atkinson's death in 2016 but separated two years later - 'were going to die' during the encounter.

He denied his conduct on that August night had been influenced by his enduring relationship with his colleague, known by her middle name, Ellie.

The 6ft tall officer, who joined West Mercia Police in 2002, said that while he 'never wanted Ellie to get hurt', he would have been equally determined to protect any other colleague, describing his actions as 'reasonable and necessary' in order to restrain Mr Atkinson.

Birmingham Crown Court heard the officer's first two Taser strikes on 5ft 11in Mr Atkinson had been ineffective, leaving him with one final cartridge to use.

Monk said Atkinson allegedly told him during the incident: 'You can put 100,000 volts through me, I'm the f****** messiah - your Taser won't work and now I'm going to take you to the gates of hell'.

Asked how he felt after the second Taser strike failed, the PC said: 'I remember just thinking, 'we're done for'.

When Patrick Gibbs QC, Monk's barrister, asked the officer what he did next, he replied: 'Ran for my life - we ran away', something he told jurors he had never done in his entire career.

The 43-year-old said: 'He (Mr Atkinson) was very, very scary.'

PCs Monk and Bettley-Smith backed away while waiting for back up teams to arrive - only for Mr Atkinson to smash the glass in the front door of his father's home, forcing them to engage with him again.

When Monk fired his Taser a third time, Mr Atkinson, 'stopped moving towards me and seemed to stop where he was'.

He added: 'He fell to the floor. I know he timbered, but I can't say if it was from standing.'

Monk said the two officers, plus Mr Atkinson's father, Ernest, 'were potentially done for' if that final Taser shot had not brought the ex-footballer down.

Admitting he had considered running away to lure Mr Atkinson out of the cul-de-sac, he added: 'The fact it worked it was a big relief.'

Monk said Bettley-Smith then 'delivered some baton strikes to the lower area of Mr Atkinson's legs' as he 'plucked' at the barb on his chest.

The defendant said he felt Mr Atkinson was trying to get up, so he kicked him twice - leaving the imprint of his boot laces in two areas of the footballer's forehead.

Describing the kicks, Monk said: 'It was an instinctive act, a desperate, instinctive act because this was the last thing I had', but said he never intended to hurt Atkinson.

Mr Atkinson died shortly after arrival in hospital around 70 minutes later, news which Monk said left him 'devastated'.

Jurors were previously told how Mr Atkinson had high blood pressure, heart disease and end-stage renal failure, for which he was having dialysis.

But while expert witnesses agreed that Mr Atkinson's poor health put him at much greater risk of dying, jurors were told he would not have died that night 'were it not for the third Taser deployment and the kicks to his head'.

The trial heard evidence of Mr Atkinson's increasing paranoia in his final weeks, with his father, Ernest, saying his son was 'not in his right mind' on the day of his death and had threatened to kill both his father and brothers.

Ernest Atkinson, who has since died, told police his son had grabbed him around the throat after 'pounding' on the door of his home in Meadow Close in Telford, Shropshire, in the early hours.

The 85-year-old gave a statement to police a week after his son's death, which was summarised and read out to the court by junior prosecution counsel Paul Jarvis.

Mr Jarvis said: 'Ernest explained that he was in bed upstairs when he heard some movement outside at the front of his house. He saw his son Dalian standing outside on the gravel area near the front of the house.'

Mr Atkinson told police he had opened a window and asked his son what was wrong, and he had asked to come inside to talk.

The former striker seemed upset, his father said, and he opened the door for him because he was banging on it.

Addressing the jury, Mr Jarvis added: 'Dalian told Ernest Atkinson that he loved him and asked why his father and the rest of the family were trying to kill him.'

Continuing to summarise the statement, Mr Jarvis said: 'At that, Dalian grabbed Ernest by the throat and pushed him down into a chair. He told him not to move otherwise he would kill Paul and Kenroy, Dalian's brothers. Dalian asked his father how much they had paid him.'

Jurors were told Mr Atkinson then answered the phone, again shouting that he was 'the messiah.'

Mr Jarvis added: 'Ernest had never seen his son like this before. Ernest then heard a knock at the door and a voice on the other side of the door said 'police'.

'From inside the house Ernest could see and hear Dalian standing with his hands out and say 'You are going to Taser me. I'm the messiah, you cannot hurt me'.'

Mr Atkinson, who assumed the police would be able to calm his son down, then heard a bang as the glass in his front door was smashed, before two officers told him 'Dalian was fine and that he was in an ambulance'.

Mr Jarvis added: 'A short time later a police officer came into Ernest's kitchen to tell him his son had died. In his view, his son had not been in his right mind.'

Earlier in the trial, Karen Wright, Atkinson's partner at the time, told jurors that Mr Atkinson 'was quite convinced that he was going to be killed or he was going to be not be with us anymore' in the weeks leading up to his death.

'I said to him 'don't be so daft, you're not going to die',' she added.

Asked if Mr Atkinson had suggested who was going to kill him, Ms Wright said: 'He said the NHS or the police will kill me.'

She said he then added: 'You'll see when I am dead, I am the Messiah.'

At least three neighbours witnessed Mr Atkinson's struggle with the police, leaving one of them needing counselling.

Jean Jeffery-Shaw told the court she watched as Monk kicked Mr Atkinson in the head as he lay dying.

The elderly woman said she was so 'traumatised' after watching the police 'kill a man' outside her bedroom window that she was forced to consult her GP.

She said that Monk went to Mr Atkinson's head with Bettley-Smith by his body.

'One officer said, ''Keep your head down, I am not telling you again'', the man brought up his knee to stamp on his head,' she said.

'I said to my husband, ''Oh my God, he's dead, he's not moving. Why is he telling him to keep his head down? They is talking to a dead man''.

'I did not see the body move at all. I thought he was dead. At one point the officer was kicking his head so hard I had to look away because it was too much.'

She described several stamps and kicks to Mr Atkinson's head and said the female officer was using her baton to hit his legs and the 'fleshy parts of his body'.

'She went to cuff him but his hands were limp,' she said. 'The lady was panicking.'

Mrs Jeffery-Shaw, who had known Mr Atkinson all his life, said she did not recognise him on the night.

'Had I known it was him I would have gone out to stop it,' she said, 'and maybe get killed myself. I would have comforted him and calmed him down.'

Janet Lewis, who also lived on the street, recalled seeing Mr Atkinson 'staggering about' before Monk aimed his Taser at him and shouted 'stand still, stand still or I will use my Taser'.

In a statement read out by the prosecution, she said: 'Dalian however kept on moving towards the officers. I then watched as Dalian fell to the ground behind a car.'

According to Mrs Lewis's statement, she heard a 'hissing, crackling' sound for couple of seconds as the Taser was discharged.

She then saw the male officer's left arm and shoulder moving backwards and forwards, but stop suddenly as though he had kicked something.

'It was very similar to a footballer kicking a football with substantial force,' the statement added.

Meanwhile a third witness, Julia Shilton, said she saw a 'male officer' telling Mr Atkinson to get on the ground 'a couple of times'.

She continued: 'The male police officer told him to get down on the ground a couple of times. Mr Atkinson didn't and he turned towards the officer and he sort of made his manner like a bit more menacing.

'At that point the officer drew something in his hand and I hoped it wasn't a gun. I just thought it was a Taser and I heard a crackling sound... but Mr Atkinson was still stood there.

'Then I heard a crackling noise and the officer had obviously brought the Taser up again and fired again. At that point Mr Atkinson fell down to the ground. In layman's terms, like a ton of bricks. He just went down.'

Drink, despair, bankruptcy of an idol who never fulfilled his potential: Dalian Atkinson's devastating plunge from Aston Villa fan favourite to fallen star gripped by paranoia 

By Rory Tingle for MailOnline and James Tozer and Andy Dolan for the Daily Mail 

Mention the umbrella moment to any Aston Villa fan and you'll almost certainly be met with a wry smile. 

The image of Dalian Atkinson with fellow striker Dean Saunders on his shoulders as they were shielded from the rain by an umbrella-wielding pitch invader is seared on the memories of millions - even more so than Atkinson's spectacular solo effort that netted the 3-2 away win at Wimbledon. 

The moment summed up Atkinson's approach which he was to reflect upon just hours before his death, telling his girlfriend: 'All I ever wanted was to make people happy. I played football the way that I did because I wanted to entertain. I wanted everyone to go home with smiles on their faces.'

Yet away from the pitch the footballer endured a difficult private life, struggling with his mental health and developing an increasing paranoia that displayed themselves on his final day, when he had earlier threatened to kill his father and brothers. 

Later on August 15, 2016, before being Tasered by PC Benjamin Monk, 43, Atkinson, 48, shouted: 'You can put 100,000 volts through me, I'm the f****** messiah - your Taser won't work and now I'm going to take you to the gates of hell'. 

Dalian Atkinson was a cult hero among fans of the teams he played for. He is pictured in 1992 when he famously celebrated an away win against Wimbledon with an umbrella-wielding pitch invader 

Hailed as the next big thing at the dawn of football’s lucrative Premier League era, Atkinson appeared destined for wealth and success.

Blessed with devastating pace and brilliant control, the youngster from Shropshire was tipped as a future England star alongside another up-and-coming young striker, Alan Shearer.

But a nightmare series of injuries – combined with a reputation for being ‘lazy’ plus lurid headlines about his private life, including an alleged love child and three driving bans – meant he never fulfilled his potential.

Fondly remembered by Aston Villa fans, in particular for his 1992 Match of the Day ‘goal of the season’ against Wimbledon, his problems meant he spent much of his career at little-known clubs in Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

Questioned as a young player about the source of his athleticism, Atkinson quipped: ‘I used to get chased by dogs in the street when I was a kid.’ Asked where, he sarcastically replied: ‘Harlem.’

Far from the poverty-stricken upbringing his interviewer may have imagined, Atkinson was raised in Telford, the son of a church deacon and respected member of the town’s West Indian community.

He joined Ipswich before moving to Sheffield Wednesday, and later became Spanish club Real Sociedad’s first black player. But it was as Aston Villa’s £1.6million record signing in 1991 that he would be best known.

An injury-hit first season – Atkinson admitted becoming overweight and lazy, saying he was ‘always heading for the carvery and eating too much’ – was forgotten with a prolific streak 12 months later, including the club’s first Premier League goal.

His success saw him linked with Manchester United – about to begin their dominance under Alex Ferguson – while pundits suggested Atkinson and Shearer represented England’s future following Gary Lineker’s retirement.

Thanks to the money flooding into the sport as a result of BSkyB’s broadcasting deal, he was earning what then seemed a staggering £3,000 a week.

In a sign of how far he had progressed from his modest upbringing, Atkinson bought a five-bedroom detached house called The Rookery in a village near Burton-on-Trent – long since sold, the property is now valued at more than £700,000.

Off the pitch, Atkinson’s deteriorating relationship with namesake manager Ron saw his performances falter. He was fined for missing a summer tour to South Africa for ‘family reasons’ and the pair almost came to blows in the dressing room.

His boy racer driving earned him three road bans – including a 1993 smash in which his uninsured VW Golf GTI ploughed into an elderly couple’s car.

Atkinson also faced bankruptcy proceedings over a £2,000 mobile phone bill, while in 1995 a single mother accused him of fathering her daughter and refusing to pay maintenance.

Lyn Kelsall, then 28, told the Daily Mirror that after meeting at a nightclub the star regularly paid £60 taxi fares to ferry her from her Mansfield home to his house where they sometimes had unprotected sex three or four times a night.

According to the paper, Atkinson admitted offering to pay for an abortion, but after signing a £10,000-a-week deal to play for Turkish club Fenerbahce a paternity test proved negative.

She refused to accept the finding as the samples were taken in Turkey, telling the paper: ‘I swear I made love to no one other than Dalian at the time Demi was conceived.’ She wrote on her Facebook page after his death: ‘Seeing the news my Demi’s dad has died – sad times.’ She later wrote that her daughter was really upset.

Demi posted a link to news coverage of Atkinson’s death accompanied by two broken hearts. After a promising start, Atkinson’s spell in Turkey ended in acrimony with the club accusing him of going awol for three months. He vanished to near-obscurity at clubs including Jeddah-based Al-Ittihad before retiring aged 33.

He was also known over a notorious gaffe when Karren Brady – then a novice football executive – asked Ron Atkinson, who is white, whether the player was his son.

‘I hadn’t got the heart to tell her,’ Mr Atkinson later recalled of his encounter with the future Apprentice star and Conservative peer. For Dalian, forging a life outside football without the international caps and winner’s medals earned by many of his contemporaries proved a struggle.

Carlton Palmer, a former team-mate, said he had found retirement difficult. ‘Dalian would not have finished his career financially secure and he was scratching around doing stuff,’ he said, adding that this had resulted in ‘a very dangerous spiral’.

Atkinson founded a sports consultancy business named Players Come First in 2009 but this was dissolved last year. He also worked with community projects in the Telford area.

Speaking three years ago about a football scheme for unemployed youngsters, Atkinson said: ‘They look disheartened, as though they’re in a dead end and they’ve had so many knockbacks. But you’ve got to keep on going, you’ve got no choice. You’ve got to keep trying.’

Locals near the scene of his death – close to his father Ernest’s Telford home – said he was a regular visitor following the death of his mother Ambrozine in 1999.

But relatives revealed he had suffered kidney problems in recent years. ‘Dalian had only come out of hospital a few days ago,’ one friend said. ‘He had a kidney complaint and he was due to have an appointment at a private hospital in Manchester.

‘The only thing I can think is he has had a drink and it hasn’t agreed with some medication.

‘I’ve known Dalian and seen him have a drink but I’ve never known him have a problem.’

Football star Atkinson was known as a fans' favourite and played for Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town

The friend added: ‘He was brought up around here and is very popular. Even when he made it as a footballer he didn’t disappear, he was always coming back.

‘He bought the house for his parents, it was a lovely gesture.’ 

Atkinson's mental health deteriorated in the weeks leading to his death, with Karen Wright, the his partner at the time, telling jurors he 'was quite convinced that he was going to be killed or he was going to be not be with us anymore' in the weeks leading up to his death.

'I said to him 'don't be so daft, you're not going to die',' she added.

Asked if Atkinson had suggested who was going to kill him, Ms Wright said: 'He said the NHS or the police will kill me.'

She said he then added: 'You'll see when I am dead, I am the Messiah.'

Birmingham Crown Court head how Atkinson had tried to kill his father, Ernest, and his own two brothers in the hours before he was Tasered. 

Summarising a statement from Ernest to the jury,  prosecutor Paul Jarvis said: 'Dalian grabbed Ernest by the throat and pushed him down into a chair. He told him not to move otherwise he would kill Paul and Kenroy, Dalian's brothers. Dalian asked his father how much they had paid him.'

Jurors were told Mr Atkinson then answered the phone, again shouting that he was 'the messiah.'

Mr Jarvis added: 'Ernest had never seen his son like this before. Ernest then heard a knock at the door and a voice on the other side of the door said 'police'.

'From inside the house Ernest could see and hear Dalian standing with his hands out and say 'You are going to Taser me. I'm the messiah, you cannot hurt me'.'

Mr Atkinson, who assumed the police would be able to calm his son down, then heard a bang as the glass in his front door was smashed, before two officers told him 'Dalian was fine and that he was in an ambulance'.

Mr Jarvis added: 'A short time later a police officer came into Ernest's kitchen to tell him his son had died. 

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