A police constable has been cleared of assaulting ex-Aston Villa star Dalian Atkinson, after telling jurors she struck him with a baton as a last resort.
Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith was acquitted after jurors rejected prosecution claims that she “lashed out” in anger at Mr Atkinson before his death in Telford, Shropshire, in the early hours of August 15, 2016.
Bettley-Smith, 32, was found not guilty at Birmingham Crown Court on Wednesday after the jury had deliberated for three hours and two minutes following a re-trial.
Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the assault charge at the officer’s original trial last year, but convicted Pc Benjamin Monk of manslaughter.
Monk, 43, was jailed for eight years in July 2021 after forensic evidence proved he had kicked Mr Atkinson at least twice in the head, after tasering him to the ground.
The re-trial was told the retired footballer, 48, who was capped by the England B team and also played for Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town, was looking forward to private health treatment due to start on the day he was unlawfully killed.
He lost consciousness shortly after being tasered near his childhood home in Meadow Close, Trench, and died in hospital about an hour later.
Bettley-Smith and Monk, who were in a relationship at the time, had been sent to the scene to restrain Mr Atkinson after his mental state became disturbed, probably due to a build-up of toxins linked to renal failure.
Prosecutors alleged Bettley-Smith lost her cool and “pummelled” a “defenceless” Mr Atkinson with a baton, causing actual bodily harm which they accepted did not contribute to his death.
In her evidence to the court, Bettley-Smith said she had used the baton because she perceived the ex-footballer still posed a threat of “serious harm” after he was tasered for a third time.
Bettley-Smith told her trial she was left “shaking from head to toe” and was sure she would have come to harm if Mr Atkinson had managed to get to his feet.
She told the jury she believed she had used her baton lawfully as a last resort as she desperately tried to control Mr Atkinson, who she said was “actively resisting and trying to get up”.
Claiming to have been terrified, the probationary officer, who is 5ft 5in, said the incident was the only occasion she had drawn her baton during her full-time service, which began six months earlier.
Mr Atkinson had not flinched during two of three Taser deployments, and appeared to feel no pain when he smashed a window.
“I thought he was trying to get up to fight,” she told the court. “In my opinion he was trying to get up on to his hands and knees.
“I was terrified of Mr Atkinson getting up. I was terrified to even get close to him because I thought I would come to serious harm if he was to get up.
“If I could have done anything to not use my baton that night, then I would have. There was no anger or losing my cool.”
Bettley-Smith, a social work graduate, said that being told of Mr Atkinson’s death had left her feeling overwhelmed and that the feelings had not got any easier during the past six years.
“I live it every day,” she said.
In a statement, the family of Mr Atkinson said: “Whilst we are disappointed in today’s verdict, it brings an end to legal processes which have lasted over six years.
“Not a day has gone by since Dalian’s death in August 2016 when we haven’t thought that if it hadn’t been for the actions of the police, he might still be with us now.”
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said it is liaising with West Mercia Police about its next steps regarding potential disciplinary proceedings.
IOPC regional director Derrick Campbell said “As part of our detailed investigation into the tragic events of August 15 2016, we carefully examined the nature and level of force used by Pc Bettley-Smith and whether it was in line with national policies and guidelines.
“Police officers are given extraordinary powers to use force, and the way they use force must be reasonable and proportionate.
“We analysed the sequence of baton strikes by Pc Bettley-Smith to Mr Atkinson’s body when he was lying on the ground after he had been tasered. After we presented our evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service it authorised the charge of actual bodily harm. It was important that the officer’s actions were brought before a court and the jury has now made its decision.
“I would again send my heartfelt condolences to Dalian’s family who have had to wait patiently for a long time for justice to fully take its course.”
West Mercia Polce Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Jones said: “Last year a jury found the actions of Ben Monk led to the death of Dalian Atkinson.
“Today, a jury has found the actions of Ellie Bettley-Smith on the night Dalian died did not amount to assault and she has been found not guilty of the charges put to her.
“Dalian’s family and friends have suffered a devastating loss; this has been an extremely long and difficult journey and they have shown great dignity throughout. I again want to say to them that I am sincerely sorry and extend my apologies and heartfelt condolences.”