ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman reports on the manslaughter conviction
A police officer who tasered ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson and then kicked him twice in the head has been cleared of murder but convicted of his manslaughter.
Jurors at Birmingham Crown Court took 18 hours and 48 minutes to reach unanimous verdicts on Pc Benjamin Monk, who claimed he was put in fear of his life by the former Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town star on August 15, 2016.
Jurors are still deliberating on an assault charge relating to Monk’s colleague and former girlfriend, Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith.
According to the charity Inquest, no police officer has been found guilty of murder or manslaughter over a death in custody or following police contact in England and Wales since the 1980s.
In a statement, the Atkinson family said: “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 last time an officer was convicted in such a case was in 1986, when a Merseyside police sergeant was found guilty of manslaughter after kicking and punching a retired bus driver in a police cell.
In a statement following Monk’s conviction, Atkinson’s family said he was “much missed by all”.
The statement added: “We knew years ago about the terrible injuries inflicted by Pc Monk on Dalian, but have been unable to talk about them due to the criminal process. 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.
“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 onto his forehead.”
The family’s lawyer, Kate Maynard of Hickman and Rose solicitors, said: “This is the first manslaughter conviction in the modern era of a police officer using excessive force in the course of duty.
“This is a landmark conviction. I hope it is a watershed moment for accountability of police officers in this country.
“While the wheels of justice have, in this case, turned far too slowly, today’s guilty verdict must mark a turning point for the IOPC [police watchdog] and Crown Prosecution Service.”
Monk told the court he ran in fear after Atkinson, who appeared to be having a mental health crisis, made death threats and smashed a glass door pane at his childhood home in Meadow Close, Telford, Shropshire.
The 43-year-old officer claimed the former Premier League star was trying to get up when he aimed kicks at his shoulder in lawful self-defence as a last resort, after running out of Taser cartridges.
Mr Atkinson went into cardiac arrest after being taken from the scene in an ambulance, and was pronounced dead in hospital at 2.45am – about an hour after he was Tasered.
Prosecutors said Monk lied about the number of kicks he had delivered to the victim’s head by claiming he could remember only one aimed at his shoulder.
The officer also claimed to have no recollection of placing his foot on Atkinson’s head as colleagues arrived at the scene.
Although he conceded he must have kicked the ex-footballer twice in the forehead because bootlace prints proved he had, the officer maintained his actions were lawful self-defence made necessary when Atkinson tried to get up.
Taser records showed Monk activated the weapon eight times for a total of more than 80 seconds using three Taser cartridges, culminating in a 33-second deployment more than six times longer than is standard.
Jurors were told they could convict Monk of murder only if they were sure he intended to cause really serious injury.
The jury was instructed to find Monk guilty of an alternative charge of manslaughter if they were not sure he intended to cause serious harm but the force used was an act any reasonable person would realise was bound to pose a risk of physical harm.
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.
Reacting to Monk’s conviction, Assistant Chief Constable Rachel Jones, of West Mercia Police said: “Today a jury at Birmingham Crown Court has found Pc Ben Monk guilty of the manslaughter of Dalian Atkinson.
“Words alone cannot express the deep regret and shock I feel that I must stand here and address you because a West Mercia officer has been found to be criminally responsible for Dalian’s death.
“I am sincerely sorry and extend my apologies and deep condolences to Dalian’s family and friends.
“You have demonstrated great dignity and strength throughout.”