Cruel end to football hero Dalian Atkinson's life

When former Premier League footballer Dalian Atkinson was fatally Tasered by police in the street where he grew up in Telford it sent shockwaves across the community and beyond.

Ron Atkinson and Dalian Atkinson celebrate with the Coca-Cola cup in 1994
Ron Atkinson and Dalian Atkinson celebrate with the Coca-Cola cup in 1994

The popular ex-Aston Villa star - who was beset by ill-health, with heart problems and end stage renal failure - died in hospital a short time after the confrontation with police officers Benjamin Monk and Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith at about 1.30am in the early hours of August 15, 2016.

The 48-year-old, who had also played for Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday, went into cardio-respiratory arrest and after being brought to the ground when he was struck with a Taser stun gun three times and then kicked by Monk, leaving two separate bootlace imprints on his forehead.

He was then struck on the legs with a baton by Bettley-Smith.

Police constables Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith and Benjamin Monk

The jury trying Bettley-Smith, who denies assaulting Mr Atkinson, has been sent home and will resume its deliberations at 10am on Thursday.

The third Taser discharge was to prove pivotal in the ensuing investigation as Monk kept the trigger depressed for 33 seconds - more than six times longer than the standard five-second deployment period.

The pair had arrived at the home of Mr Atkinson's elderly father Ernest, in Meadow Close, Trench, following a report of a disturbance at the property by a concerned neighbour who heard the ex-footballer shouting in the street and demanding to be let in. Several residents witnessed the attack and gave their accounts of what they saw to the jury.

All were of the opinion that once he fell to the ground he was unresponsive and still and not posing any threat to the officers, despite the officers' defence that they feared for their safety and were entitled to use force because he was trying to get up.

Dalian Atkinson

Mr Atkinson had spent the previous evening with his girlfriend, Karen Wright, but his behaviour had been erratic and against her advice he went out, arriving in a confused state at his father's address. He had been making strange comments including that he was "the Messiah" which he repeated to the officers when they turned up.

The prosecution's case was that Monk in particular was angry that he'd been put in fear by Mr Atkinson and that he chose to take his anger out by kicking him to the head, intending to cause him serious injury. The defence said the officers were entitled to use force.

At the start of the protracted investigation that followed West Mercia Police referred the incident to the then-watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission, now the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). For his family and friends it has taken an agonising five years for the case to be concluded following a series of hearings and investigations.

Campaigners held a march and protest in Telford

In the aftermath of his death in Telford campaigners stunned that this could have happened in the town held a peaceful march and protest outside Malinsgate Police Station on September 17, 2016. While others raised concerns about Taser safety and call for restrictions on the use of the devices.

The Police Federation of England and Wales defended the use of Tasers, saying officers have to deal with situations "that arise in the blink of an eye" with no time to research someone's medical history.

But within days of his death the gravity of the situation further unfolded when it was announced that three West Mercia officers were under criminal investigation and served gross misconduct notices. In the end it was Monk and Bettley-Smith who were charged with offences in November 2019, three years after his death. No charges were brought against a third officer.

A young Dalian Atkinson

Monk, 43, pleaded not guilty to alternative charges of murder and manslaughter, while his then girlfriend, 31-year-old Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, pleaded not guilty to assaulting Atkinson.

On the evening before the former footballer died, he spoke at length to his sister, Otis, about his worries and fears, his deteriorating health and the medical care he was getting.

Reflecting on his life, the retired footballer told her: "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."

Dalian Atkinson's family arrive at his funeral in 2016

Former stars from the football world joined hundreds of mourners at his funeral held on November 19, 2016 including managers Ron Atkinson and Brian Little.

Former Aston Villa boss Brian Little said: "The memories I'd probably like to remember are those of watching Dalian play, especially under Ron Atkinson where he had a fantastic spell at Aston Villa.

Dalian Atkinson scoring the first goal in the Coca Cola Cup Final at Wembley against Manchester United in 1994

"I've seen some of the great goals he scored, I've seen his strengths on the football field.

"When I came to Villa, Dalian had a fair few injuries, didn't play a lot of games for me, so I saw a young lad who was a little bit more concerned, certainly more quiet than you would imagine, less confident than you would imagine because on the football field he was a super confident person. I saw the quieter side of him, a young player who had been injured a bit and needed an arm around his shoulder."

Sadly Mr Atkinson's father, Ernest, passed away last December without knowing the outcome of the trial.

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