Atkinson trial rare case where police faced criminal charge over custody death

In the UK it is rare for police to face criminal prosecution over a death in custody or following contact with officers.

According to the charity Inquest, no police officer had been found guilty of murder or manslaughter over a death in custody or following police contact in England and Wales since before it began monitoring these cases in 1990.

But on Tuesday West Mercia Police Constable Benjamin Monk was jailed for eight years at Birmingham Crown Court for the manslaughter of ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson who died after he was tasered to the ground and kicked in the head in 2016.

Dalian Atkinson death
Dalian Atkinson (Karen Wright/PA)

The last time an officer was convicted in such a case was in 1986, when Merseyside police sergeant Alwyn Sawyer was found guilty of manslaughter after kicking and punching retired bus driver Henry Foley, 67, as he lay handcuffed in a police cell.

Murder or manslaughter charges have been brought against police officers in 10 cases since 1990, and those accused have either been acquitted or the case has collapsed.

The cases are:

– Thomas Orchard:

The 32-year-old died in hospital a week after he was arrested and taken to Heavitree Road police station in Exeter, Devon in October 2012.

Thomas Orchard death
Thomas Orchard (Family handout/PA)

While in custody the church caretaker, who had mental health issues, was restrained and an emergency response belt (ERB) was placed across his face for five minutes and two seconds to prevent spitting or biting.

A custody sergeant and two detention officers were charged with manslaughter but found not guilty following a trial at Bristol Crown Court in 2017. Devon and Cornwall Police force was later fined for health and safety breaches.

– Ian Tomlinson:

In April 2009, Ian Tomlinson died after he was hit with a baton and shoved to the ground by police officer Simon Harwood on the fringes of G20 protests in the City of London.

Ian Tomlinson settlement
Ian Tomlinson (City of London Police/PA)

An initial report found that he had died from a heart attack, but this was brought into question when an American tourist sent footage of him being hit and shoved from behind, causing a heavy fall.

An inquest in 2011 found Mr Tomlinson was unlawfully killed by Pc Harwood and that he had used “excessive and unreasonable” force. But when the officer faced trial at Southwark Crown Court in 2012 he was cleared of manslaughter after a jury accepted his account that he believed he was using reasonable force.

– Azelle Rodney:

Met Police marksman Anthony Long opened fire on suspected armed robber Mr Rodney, 27, less than a second after pulling up alongside the car in which he was travelling.

Azelle Rodney court case
Azelle Rodney (Family handout/PA)

He fired off eight shots in 2.1 seconds, six of which fatally injured Mr Rodney who was the back seat passenger of a Volkswagen Golf which was boxed in during a “hard stop” by armed police in Hale Lane, Mill Hill, north London in April 2005.

In 2013, a judge-led public inquiry into Mr Rodney’s death found that he was shot with “no lawful justification”, but two years later after an Old Bailey trial Mr Long was cleared of murder.

– Robin Goodenough:

Three officers were accused of manslaughter over the death of Mr Goodenough, 26, a disqualified driver who died in September 2003 after being stopped by police.

POLICE Arrests
Robin Goodenough (PA)

In November 2005, one officer was cleared and a jury failed to reach a verdict on the other two. Pcs Robin Shane and John Shatford were then tried instead for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, but were cleared by jurors at the Old Bailey in July 2006.

– Michelle Wood:

Three police officers were cleared of manslaughter over the death of heroin addict Miss Wood, 25, who was found dead from hypothermia on land near New Waltham, north east Lincolnshire, in February 2003.

One month earlier she had been arrested on suspicion of attempted burglary in Louth, Lincolnshire, after going to the town on a “shoplifting expedition”. Custody Sergeant Andrew Hickinbottom ordered Police Constables Andrew Wood and Ian Clark to drop her off at a point on the A16 about five miles from her home.

She had wet clothes, no money, and no mobile phone, although the location was near a petrol station and a pay phone. In April 2005, judge Mrs Justice Dobbs directed a jury at Hull Crown Court that there was no case to answer because there was no evidence that the officers had breached their duty of care.

– James Ashley:

Mr Ashley, 39, was shot dead while naked, unarmed and in bed with his girlfriend during a raid on his flat in St Leonards, Hastings, in January 1998.

Sussex police constable Chris Sherwood was charged with murder and manslaughter, but in May 2001 the case collapsed after a judge found the prosecution had failed to prove he had not acted in self defence. He said he had mistakenly believed that Mr Ashley was pointing a gun at him.

Typical
Christopher Alder (Family handout/PA)

– Christopher Alder:

Mr Alder choked to death while handcuffed on the floor of a Hull police station in April 1998 after being arrested for an alleged breach of the peace. In August 2000, an inquest jury found the 37-year-old former paratrooper was unlawfully killed.

Two years later, five Humberside Police officers went on trial at Teesside Crown Court accused of manslaughter and misconduct in a public office, but the trial collapsed and the judge ordered the jury to acquit the defendants on all charges.

In 2011, Mr Alder’s family were told his body had been discovered in a hospital mortuary more than a decade after they thought he had been buried in Hull’s Northern Cemetery. It later emerged pensioner Grace Kamara was buried in Mr Alder’s place in 2000, two years after he died.

– David Ewin:

Unarmed car thief Mr Ewin was shot dead by police marksman Pc Patrick Hodgson after he tried to drive off while the officer was clinging to the side of his car in Barnes, south-west London in February 1995.

Mr Hodgson became the first officer to face murder charges after a shooting while on duty, and was cleared by an Old Bailey jury of murder and manslaughter.

– Richard O’Brien:

Market trader Mr O’Brien was arrested for being drunk and disorderly after a dance at a community centre in Walworth, south London in April 1994. The father-of-seven died after being held face down during his arrest and then placed lying on his front in a police van.

In 1999, three Metropolitan Police officers – Richard Ilett, Gary Lockwood and James Barber – were cleared at the Old Bailey of his manslaughter. The trial followed a judicial review launched by Mr O’Brien’s family after an inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing.

JOY GARDNER COLLECT PICTURE
Joy Gardner (Family handout/PA)

– Joy Gardner:

Ms Gardner, 40, who was facing deportation, died in 1993 after police officers gagged her by wrapping at least 13ft of tape around her head and using several belts around her body at her flat in Crouch End, north London, in front of her five-year-old son.

She collapsed after the struggle and died four days later in hospital. The three officers were cleared of manslaughter.