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UK police officer convicted of killing ex-Villa star Atkinson

23 Jun 2021 / 20:57 H.

LONDON: A British police officer who tasered ex-Aston Villa footballer Dalian Atkinson and kicked him twice in the head was Wednesday convicted of manslaughter but cleared of murder in a verdict labelled “historic” by campaigners.

Jurors at Birmingham Crown Court took nearly 19 hours to reach unanimous verdicts on Benjamin Monk, who said he was put in fear of his life by the actions of the former player on August 15, 2016.

Jurors are still deliberating on an assault charge relating to Monk’s colleague and former girlfriend, police constable Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith.

Atkinson was a high-profile forward for Premier League side Aston Villa in the early 1990s and also played for Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich and Real Sociedad.

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 the town of Telford, about 48 km from Birmingham, central England.

The 43-year-old officer with West Mercia Police said 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.

Atkinson, 48, went into cardiac arrest after being taken from the scene in an ambulance, and was pronounced dead in hospital about an hour after he was tasered.

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.

The court was told that Monk and Bettley-Smith, were in a relationship at the time of the incident.

- ‘Disproportionate’ -

Following the verdict, charity INQUEST said no British police officer had been found guilty of murder or manslaughter following a death in custody or after police contact in England and Wales since 1986.

Director Deborah Coles said the “historic” verdict sent a strong message that officers were not above the law.

“Dalian’s death is not an isolated case but part of a systemic problem,“ she said.

“For decades black men, particularly those in mental health crisis, have disproportionately died following use of force by police.

“True justice requires structural change across our society and its institutions to address racism, and respond better to mental ill-health and state violence.”

Atkinson’s family said in a statement that the former player was “much missed”.

“We are hugely relieved that the whole country now knows the truth about how Dalian died,“ it said.

“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.” — AFP

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