Police officer guilty of using excessive force against Dalian Atkinson keeps job
The police officer who repeatedly beat Dalian Atkinson as he lay dying has been found guilty of gross misconduct but has been allowed to keep her job.
The family of Atkinson, a former Aston Villa footballer, condemned the news that PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith of West Mercia police could return to the streets as an officer instead of being sacked.
The 33-year-old was on duty with former PC Benjamin Monk, her lover at the time, who was convicted of manslaughter for attacking Atkinson in 2016.
Monk Tasered Atkinson for 33 seconds before kicking and stamping on his head with such force his laces contained traces of Atkinson’s blood and an imprint from them was left on his forehead.
After Atkinson, 48, fell to the ground, Bettley-Smith used excessive force by striking him three times with her police-issue baton, an independent tribunal found on Friday.
The decision that she should keep her job was made by a panel with an independent, legally qualified chair. Some chief constables, believing independent chairs are too lenient, have said they want to decide on penalties for gross misconduct cases.
The panel chair, Karimulla Khan, said: “[The] three baton strikes [while Atkinson was on the ground] were unnecessary, disproportionate and unreasonable in all the circumstances and were therefore unlawful.”
Patrick Gibbs KC, for the officer, said she made the wrong decision while under pressure: “This involves a miscalculation in the heat of moment in the degree of force which still now needed to be used.”
Bettley-Smith had been acquitted at a retrial of unlawfully assaulting Atkinson, having claimed she thought he might attack the officers, but still faced a gross misconduct hearing. The discipline panel gave her a final written warning.
In a statement, the footballer’s relatives said: “Dalian Atkinson’s family welcomes the panel’s decision that the assault on Dalian as he was dying constitutes gross misconduct. However, as a probationary officer, having demonstrated such violence and poor judgment, it is very concerning that she was not dismissed immediately this afternoon and that she will be put back on the streets as a serving police officer. This brings the police service into deeper disrepute.”
His sister, Elaine Atkinson, said: “I am disappointed really with the outcome because I did feel that it was serious enough [for her to be sacked].
“His life wasn’t as important and what we have gone through the past six years, and the fact they’re talking about her [Bettley-Smith] being on the rack. At the end of the day, Dalian’s gone and it’s down to those officers.”
Deborah Coles of the human rights charity Inquest, which has supported Atkinson’s family, said: “What an insulting and disgraceful outcome. A police officer who strikes a dying man keeping her job tells us everything we know about the broken system for holding police to account.
“The police’s legal defence in this case relied on racist tropes that Dalian was violent and dangerous. We know from the evidence that he was in fact a man in mental health crisis who needed care and protection. Instead, he was dehumanised and faced police violence.”
Monk was the first British police officer in more than three decades to be convicted of manslaughter during the course of his duties.
His conviction and jailing for eight years came after he set upon Atkinson on 15 August 2016. Police were called to a late-night disturbance with Atkinson acting in an erratic and out of character fashion having gone to his father’s street in Telford.
Monk was allowed to stay in the police when in 2011 he was found to have committed gross misconduct for failing to fully declare past criminal cautions he received before joining the police. After his conviction the Atkinson family condemned that decision and said: “He should never have been working for the police in August 2016 and Dalian should not have died.”
The barrister who presented the case against Bettley-Smith, Dijen Basu KC, said West Mercia police’s deputy chief constable had instructed that the panel be asked to consider the lesser sanction, as well as dismissal without notice.
The deputy chief constable, Alex Murray, said: “The gross misconduct hearing into the level of force used by PC Bettley-Smith was chaired by an independent legally qualified chair, with the panel consisting of representatives from outside the force.
“The facts of the case were presented, and PC Bettley-Smith was given the opportunity to explain her actions. This follows the national procedure.
“On the night Dalian died, police were called to protect him, his family and the public but that did not happen. As a result, PC Ben Monk is in prison.”