Dalian Atkinson’s family say five-year wait for trial was ‘unacceptable’

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: PA</span>
Photograph: PA

Dalian Atkinson’s family told of their relief and continuing pain after a five-year battle for justice saw a British police officer become the first in 35 years to be convicted of manslaughter while on duty.

PC Benjamin Monk used excessive force when he fired an electric stun gun into the former professional footballer for 33 seconds – six times longer than is standard – and kicked him twice in the head as he lay on the ground, a jury found.

Monk was called to attend a disturbance in Telford, Shropshire in August 2016, when Atkinson was suffering an acute mental health crisis. His behaviour was erratic and out of character, the trial heard.

At the end of a six-minute clash, Atkinson was kicked with such force that his blood was found in the laces of Monk’s police-issue boots, the trial heard. The West Mercia police officer was accused of lying in court about his account.

Legal restrictions meant details of the incident were not made public until the trial began in May, almost five years after Atkinson, 48, died. After the verdict, his family condemned Monk, saying they were “sickened” by the officer’s defence, and that he had meted out violence to a man who needed help.

Monk told the jury he had been terrified by Atkinson and had acted solely in self-defence, as he was entitled to do.

The jury disagreed, and afterwards the Atkinson family said: “On the night he died, Dalian was vulnerable and unwell and needed medical attention. He instead received violence, and died with PC Monk’s bootlace prints bruised on to his forehead.

“We have been sickened to hear PC Monk try to minimise the force he used on Dalian and exaggerate the threat he posed … We would like to thank the jury members for all their hard work and attention.”

The family condemned the delay in achieving justice: “The fact that this case has taken nearly five years to get to trial is completely unacceptable, especially when you consider that PC Monk’s identity was known to the prosecuting authorities from day one.”

The jury at Birmingham crown court reached its verdicts on Monk after nearly 19 hours of deliberation over six days. They first acquitted him of murder, but then unanimously convicted him of manslaughter.

The last successful prosecution of an on-duty police officer for manslaughter was in 1986 following the death of Henry Foley. The retired bus driver from Southport was beaten by Alwyn Sawyer of Merseyside police while in custody.

On Thursday the jury will resume to consider their verdicts on Monk’s co-accused, PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, who denies actual bodily harm for striking Atkinson with a baton while he was on the ground.

PC Benjamin Monk
PC Benjamin Monk outside Birmingham crown court earlier this month. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

Atkinson was pronounced dead 70 minutes after the incident on 15 August 2016.

The trial heard he suffered an acute mental health crisis on the day he was killed. He had gone to his childhood home in Meadow Close, Telford, which he had bought for his father, Ernest, with the money he made from being a Premiership star. Shortly after 1.30am, a neighbour called the police because Atkinson was causing a disturbance.

The stun gun used by Monk initially failed to stop Atkinson, who remained standing, the court heard. Monk told the jury that Atkinson said: “You can put 100,000 volts through me. I am the fucking messiah. Your Taser won’t work,” and added: “I’m going to take you to the gates of hell.”

After Monk fired the stun gun for 33 seconds, Atkinson fell to the floor. Explaining the kicks to the head, Monk claimed he believed the former footballer had still been moving and trying to get up. If he had done so, the officer said, he feared he would die.

Monk said the six-minute clash left him the most fearful he had ever been in his life and he had run away. The prosecution said Monk grew angry because he felt humiliated by Atkinson.

Atkinson, a former striker for Aston Villa, had developed severe health problems, the court heard, including an enlarged heart, and required regular kidney dialysis.

In their statement, the Atkinson family said: “We are hugely relieved that the whole country now knows the truth about how Dalian died. While it has been hard for us not to be able to talk about the details of Dalian’s death, it has been even harder to sit through this trial and to hear PC Monk try to justify the force he used.”

They added: “Our sincere hope is that now that the truth about his death is known, and justice has been done, we can start to remember him not for the manner in which he died, but for the way in which he lived.”

In his legal directions to the jurors, trial judge Melbourne Inman QC said they could only convict Monk if they were “sure that Mr Monk used unlawful force against Mr Atkinson” and were “sure that unlawful force caused his death”.

The judge said the jury should acquit Monk of murder if they were “not sure that Mr Monk intended to kill Mr Atkinson or intended to cause him really serious injury”. The judge said they should convict the officer of manslaughter “if you are sure that that force was an act which any reasonable person would realise was bound to subject another human being to the risk of physical harm”.

Monk, 43, denied inventing or exaggerating his account and accepted the evidence from officers who rushed to the scene as reinforcements. They say they saw Monk with his foot on Atkinson’s head as he lay on the ground.

Monk also declined to challenge the evidence of a colleague who said that immediately after the incident the officer had said: “I had to kick him in the head.” Later, in interview, Monk said he had aimed for the shoulder.

Prosecutor Alexandra Healy QC said Monk made up the story about kicking Atkinson in the shoulder when faced with the forensic evidence. The prosecutor said: “I suggest, Mr Monk, you had kicked Mr Atkinson in the head, because that is what you had chosen to do, not once or twice …”

Monk replied: “I would not choose to kick Mr Atkinson in the head … There was no conscious decision of mine to kick Mr Atkinson in the head.”

Atkinson achieved fame with Aston Villa and also played for clubs in South Korea, Spain and Turkey. He retired from football in 2001.

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