PC Benjamin Monk, of the West Mercia force, has been found guilty of manslaughter for his part in the death of Dalian Atkinson, a Black and highly talented footballer from Shropshire. This is a landmark case. In the UK there have been 1789 deaths of people either at the hands of the police, following police contact, or in police custody since 1990, and this is the first successful conviction of an officer.
Mary Ellen Bettley Smith, who was the other police officer present when Monk killed Atkinson, was charged with assault but the jury failed to reach a verdict. A retrial against her will not happen until next year. Monk is set to have a hearing at time of writing expected to bar him from serving again in the police; Bettley Smith remains suspended from the force but whether she will be allowed to return to working in the force remains unclear.
Dalian Robert Atkinson was a star footballer, born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire in 1968. He played for a number of football teams, won “Goal of the Season” on Match of the Day, and trophies in three different countries. Since his death, he has been described by those who knew him as: “just a gorgeous soul.”
He had lifetime harassment by the police” and “one hell of a football player and a top man”. On the 15th August 2016 West Mercia Police were called to the home of Ernest Atkinson, Dalian’s father. Ernest has said it was not he who phoned them, but that Dalian was amid a severe mental health crisis, and that he thought the police would be able to calm him down.
Outside of the house, Benjamin Monk tasered Dalian three times, the third of which lasted 33 seconds. Once Atkinson lay on the floor, he was kicked by Monk so hard that his boot prints were found on Atkinson’s head and Atkinson’s blood found on the laces. It has been said by a witness that she saw Monk stamp on Atkinson’s head and shout at him “Stay down.” Bettley Smith also struck Atkinson with her baton whilst he was on the floor. West Midlands Ambulance service were called at 1.45AM. At 3AM Atkinson was pronounced dead.
The case was instantly passed onto the IPCC (now the IOPC) and West Mercia police said they could not publicly comment. Five years on (the family say this is an unacceptable amount of time for it to have taken to reach trial, and Bristol Copwatch are inclined to agree) a jury has found Monk guilty of manslaughter.
Has justice been served? The problems surrounding all of this are complex and multilayered. Monk was found guilty of manslaughter, but cleared of murder. He has been sentenced to eight years in prison, just two thirds of which he will have to serve before he can be released on licence.
Bettley Smith has been referred to as “covid volunteer” by the press, instead of “assault criminal on trial” as if her volunteering somehow undoes the fact she chose to strike an injured man with her baton while he already lay on the floor. In the weeks and months following the incident, press swarmed to vilify Atkinson; describing him as being on a drink and drug fuelled binge.
West Mercia police describe one of their key values as “reducing vulnerability” and another as “problem solving”. Dalian Atkinson was a man in an acute mental health crisis; officers called to the scene should have been working to solve the problem and aware of his vulnerability, but instead he died at their hands. This clearly demonstrates an acute and terrifying failure by West Mercia police.
Bristol Copwatch would like to express our solidarity with Atkinson and his family, as well as the many other people who have lost their lives at the hands of the police. We hope that this is a step forward which can begin to set a precedent where violent and dangerous police officers are held accountable, and families of victims can begin to see some justice.