Dalian Atkinson tasered for 33 seconds and kicked in head by police, jury told

Richard Vernalls and Matthew Cooper, PA

Former Aston Villa star Dalian Atkinson died after being tasered for six times longer than is standard and kicked at least twice, leaving bootlace prints on his forehead, a murder trial has heard.

Pc Benjamin Monk, 42, is alleged to have intended to cause really serious injury when he became “angry” with the former footballer after two initial uses of a Taser proved ineffective.

Prosecutors claim Monk kept the trigger of the Taser depressed for 33 seconds during its third use – more than six times longer than a standard five-second deployment period.

West Mercia Police Constables Benjamin Monk and Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith arrive at Birmingham Crown Court
West Mercia Police Constables Benjamin Monk and Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith arrive at Birmingham Crown Court (PA)

A jury at Birmingham Crown Court was told the West Mercia officer denies the murder and manslaughter of the 48-year-old former footballer, who also played for Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday.

Monk’s colleague and then partner, Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, 31, is also facing trial charged with assault.

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

The court heard that Monk, who has 14 years’ service in uniform, and Bettley-Smith, who joined the force in February 2015, were in a relationship at the time of the incident.

Opening the Crown’s case against the officers, who were charged after a three-year inquiry into Mr Atkinson’s death in 2016 in Telford, Shropshire, prosecution counsel Alexandra Healy read numerous accounts from witnesses who claim Mr Atkinson was kicked or struck after falling to the ground.

The QC told the court on Tuesday that Mr Atkinson, who had serious health problems including end stage renal failure, moved towards the officers after they were called to a disturbance at his father’s home in Meadow Close, Telford, at about 1.30am.

Outlining the Crown’s case, the prosecutor said the third deployment of a Taser by Monk was “completely effective” and caused Mr Atkinson neuro-muscular incapacitation before he fell forwards onto the road.

The barrister told the jury: “The standard default setting of a Taser is a five-second phase, but it is possible to override that by continuing to depress the trigger.

“And Pc Monk continued to depress the trigger for over six times the length of a standard five-second phase.

“The taser was deployed for 33 seconds.”

The prosecution counsel added: “Pc Monk also proceeded to kick Dalian Atkinson.

“At least two kicks were delivered by him to Dalian Atkinson’s forehead with enough force to leave the imprints of the pattern of the laces from the top of his boot on two separate areas of Mr Atkinson’s forehead.”

Dalian Atkinson death
West Mercia Police constable Benjamin Monk arrives at Birmingham Crown Court. (Jacob King/PA)

Addressing Bettley-Smith’s alleged role, Ms Healy claimed the younger officer had struck Mr Atkinson, while he was lying on the ground.

The prosecutor added of Monk: “In kicking Dalian Atkinson in the head not once, but on two separate occasions, Pc Monk was not, the prosecution say, acting in self-defence or in defence of another.

“He was no doubt angry that he had been put in fear by this man.

“He chose to take that anger out on Dalian Atkinson by kicking him in the head.

“His training will have taught him, and it is obvious, that the head is a sensitive area.

“In kicking Dalian Atkinson to the head, Pc Monk can only, the prosecution say, have only intended to cause really serious injury.”

The court heard Mr Atkinson had been a successful professional footballer, playing for Aston Villa between 1991 and 1995.

Describing Mr Atkinson’s behaviour at the scene as disturbed and erratic, Ms Healy said he was shouting in the street, demanding to be let into his father’s house.

The court heard Mr Atkinson had also punched out a window pane, before telling officers their Taser was not working and that he could not be hurt.

After knocking at the door of the ex-footballer’s father’s home, Monk attempted to taser Mr Atkinson but it was ineffective, the court heard, possibly because the two probes did not attach properly.

Mr Atkinson then came out of the address and advanced to the end of the drive, prompting Monk to deploy a second Taser cartridge towards Mr Atkinson’s back, which was also ineffective.

The Crown allege Mr Atkinson was then the subject of an unlawful physical attack after a Taser was used for a third time.

Ms Healy told the court: “A number of residents living in Meadow Close witnessed this attack.

“Their view was that once Dalian Atkinson had fallen to the ground he was unresponsive and still. He was no longer posing any threat to the officers. Nonetheless the two officers set about him.

“Pc Monk is charged with murder. You will want to consider that allegation with very great care. A person is guilty of murder if he unlawfully – and by that I mean not acting in self defence – kills another with the intention of killing or the intention of causing grievous bodily harm to that other.

“The two officers on that night were on duty responding to an emergency call.

“They were entitled to use reasonable force to defend themselves or protect another. The prosecution do not criticise their conduct prior to the discharge of the third Taser cartridge.

“However, when the deployment of that last cartridge was completely effective, causing Dalian Atkinson to experience that neuromuscular incapacitation and fall to the ground, the prosecution say it was not reasonable to continue to depress the Taser for 33 seconds.”

Dalian Atkinson death
Police near the scene of the alleged murder (Joe Giddens/PA)

One of the witnesses whose account was summarised during the Crown’s opening speech, told police she estimated that three or four kicks had been directed towards Mr Atkinson with “full force” after he fell to the ground on his front.

Another witness, the jury heard, reported hearing Mr Atkinson say words to the effect of “The Messiah is coming” before he was Tasered, fell to the floor and made no effort to brace himself.

Summarising the accounts, Ms Healy said one witness thought Mr Atkinson was unconscious “because of the speed with which he collapsed… pinning his arms under his body when he fell”.

A further witness described how initial “tentative” kicks were followed by “a final massive and powerful kick” as Mr Atkinson lay motionless on the floor.

Ms Healy said of the witness: “He described the motion as similar to the sort of kick that would have been required to move a ball up field with significant force.

“But it was not, he thought, as strong a kick as a goal kick, because he said the officer did not appear to take a run up to it.

“He believed the kick was initially to the man’s chest but given the strength of the impact it looked as though the kick bounced off the chest and hit him in the chin.

“He said at the same time the female officer was striking the man with her extendable baton.”

Dalian Atkinson death
Police constables Benjamin Monk and Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith before a previous hearing (Steve Parsons/PA)

Jurors were told one of the witnesses said the kicks appeared to be “quite ferocious” and seemed to be intended to stop Mr Atkinson, who was still, from getting back up.

A photograph taken by a woman who lived in a flat above a nearby shop was shown to the jury.

The court heard the woman had seen officers backing away from Mr Atkinson before he hit the ground quickly when a Taser struck his midriff.

Outlining the woman’s account, Ms Healy said: “It looked as though he landed on his knees first and then onto his stomach. She believed at this point he was unconscious.

“She could hear the thudding of the kicks and this went on for a number of seconds.

“She thought they kicked him 15 times as she counted them.”

Jurors also heard claims that a thudding noise like somebody falling to the ground occurred before both police officers were seen running towards the area where a witness thought Mr Atkinson was standing.

Officers had been called to the scene after Bettley-Smith pushed her emergency activation button during the incident, with colleague Pc Mark Bedford arriving first.

Ms Healy said: “He saw Pc Bettley-Smith, whose back was towards him and he saw her raise her police baton over her shoulder and strike Dalian Atkinson three times around the waist area.”

Ms Healy quoted another officer, Pc Ben Wright, who said he had witnessed Monk with his “right foot rested on Dalian’s head”.

Another officer, referred to in court as Pc Hughes, “could see straightaway as he approached that the man on the ground was not conscious as he did not speak and was unresponsive,” said the Crown’s barrister.

The court heard an ambulance was called and a constable, referred to in court as Pc Edwards, went with Mr Atkinson to hospital with the paramedics.

“He was concerned that Dalian was feigning illness so Mr Atkinson’s handcuffs were not removed”, added Ms Healy.

Mr Atkinson, who had by then lost consciousness and was unresponsive, arrived at hospital but “declined quickly” and the handcuffs were removed.

However, he he was by then in cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead at 2.45am.

Ms Healy said: “The pathologists and intensive care expert instructed by the prosecution agree that whilst his underlying health conditions meant that Dalian Atkinson was at a greatly increased risk of dying, were it not for the third Taser deployment and the kicks to his head, Dalian Atkinson would not have died that night.

“The two defendants claim they were entitled to use force on Dalian Atkinson whilst he was lying on the ground because he was attempting to get up and they feared for their safety.

“As you listen to the evidence you will of course consider that with great care.”