Autumn date set for trial of policeman accused of ex-footballer’s murder

The trial of a police officer accused of murdering former Aston Villa star Dalian Atkinson could still go ahead in September, despite the current uncertainty surrounding court timetables, a judge has said.

Pc Benjamin Monk, 41, was charged last year with murder and an alternative charge of manslaughter in connection with an incident in 2016 in which Mr Atkinson was Tasered.

Monk was given permission by the judge not to attend a pre-trial hearing at Birmingham Crown Court on Tuesday, because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Dalian Atkinson death
Dalian Atkinson death

The West Mercia Police constable’s colleague, Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, 29, was also excused from attending.

She has entered a not guilty plea to a charge alleging she assaulted Mr Atkinson occasioning actual bodily harm prior to his death on August 15, 2016.

Both officers, who are on unconditional bail, were charged following a three-year inquiry into the death of Mr Atkinson, who went into cardiac arrest in an ambulance on his way to hospital.

Mr Atkinson, 48, who also played for Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday, died after police used a Taser during an incident near his father’s house in the Trench area of Telford, Shropshire.

The court hearing, conducted remotely by Skype, was listened in to by family members of Mr Atkinson.

Proceedings lasted only 20 minutes but the start was delayed by up to an hour because of technical difficulties suffered by one of the barristers dialling in to the hearing.

Dalian Atkinson death
Dalian Atkinson death

Addressing the technical issues at the start of the hearing, Judge Melbourne Inman QC said: “I am very concerned that the technology, which has been working tolerably well for the last few weeks, has let us down on a case such as this.

“I’m well aware the family of Mr Atkinson has been able to dial in.”

The judge had already set a date for an eight-week trial starting on September 14 at the city’s crown court.

But he addressed the prospect of the case starting on time, given no new jury trials in England and Wales have begun since coronavirus lockdown measures were introduced.

Judge Inman said he had no idea when jury trials would resume but that trials were being listed “realistically” at his court in order of priority.

He said: “At present, trials are not taking place and I have no indication as to when we’ll be in a position to resume.

“That being said, we are listing at this court in logical fashion so we can provide dates we consider are realistic.

“There will be a backlog of trials that have to be listed as a matter of urgency but we are a large court centre and I am confident at present we can accommodate trials of this nature.

“This case will be heard on September 14 subject to unforeseen circumstances – that is the fixed date.”

The judge added that Monk would be asked to formally enter his pleas to the charges on the day the trial begins, unless there was any further legal bid to the contrary, to avoid another potentially unnecessary hearing during the Covid-19 outbreak.