Officer fights to keep job after striking footballer Dalian Atkinson

A female police officer has been accused of using “excessive force” on a former professional footballer suffering from a psychotic episode, as she faces a permanent dismissal from the force. PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, 32, has already faced two criminal hearings, after which she was acquitted in 2022 at the retrial, but she is now being subjected to an internal hearing brought about by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) for gross misconduct.

PC Bettley-Smith delivered three blows with her police-issued baton to the beaten body of former Aston Villa striker Dalian Atkinson in August 2016, after her then-boyfriend and fellow police officer tasered him as many times before kicking him in the head twice, leaving a boot imprint on his skin. 

While PC Bettley-Smith no longer stands accused of killing Mr Atkinson – her former boyfriend PC Benjamin Monk was found solely guilty of manslaughter in 2021 and sentenced to eight years in prison – she now stands to be permanently dismissed from her role as a police officer. 

The couple were tried two years ago, and while the jury gave a unanimous verdict on Monk, they could not reach a conclusion regarding PC Bettley-Smith. At her retrial last year, she was acquitted. 

A panel of three people, including a Chief Superintendent, an independent and chaired by the legally qualified Karimulla Khan, will now decide if she breached the use of force guideline and, if so, what sanctions would be appropriate.

PC Bettley-Smith did not deliver fatal blows to Mr Atkinson, who died from his injuries after the couple detained him at the former football player’s father’s house in Telford, Shropshire, but still used force in an attempt to contain the situation and defend herself. 

Dijen Basu KC, representing her employers West Mercia Police, explained that unlike at criminal trials, the standard of proof for the hearing was on the balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt.

He said her use of the baton was “not proportionate or reasonable either to protect yourself, your colleagues, the public or to effect an arrest”. 

At the hearing, which is not taking place in a court but rather Telford’s Ramada Hotel, he said: “PC Bettley-Smith could not reasonably believe that she needed to use force to defend herself. It amounts to a breach of professional behaviour in terms of use of force. This conduct is so serious a breach that dismissal will be justified.”

He said her actions had in no way caused the death of Mr Atkinson but suggested three of the six blows she is believed to have delivered were done so after the suspect had been kicked in the head by Monk and was subsequently no longer a supposed threat. 

PC Bettley-Smith’s representative claimed her actions were not only well within her purview as an officer looking to diffuse a dangerous situation, but that the officer “showed bravery under extreme pressure”. 

Speaking at the opening of the disciplinary process, Patrick Gibbs KC said: “She does not accept she misconducted herself grossly – or at all. She denies her conduct breached standards of professional behaviour, on a fair view of this sad but terrifying incident.

“Quite the contrary is true; she showed bravery under extreme pressure and was in no way responsible for the tragic outcome.”

He added Bettley-Smith “did her probationary best in unusually challenging circumstances to contain, control and detain Dalian Atkinson – a normally peaceful man, who, because he was in the grip of florid psychosis, presented that night as a serious, immediate danger to his father, the public, responding officers and himself”.

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On August 15, 2016, Mr Atkinson was tasered three times by Monk within four minutes of the two police officers arriving at the scene. One discharge lasted for 33 seconds — more than six times longer than the normal cycle – before Monk then kicked the former footballer twice in the head. 

Mr Atkinson died in hospital about an hour after Monk had assaulted him. 

PC Bettley-Smith, the court case heard, struck Mr Atkinson three times with her baton while he was lying on the ground after the final taser discharge.

Monk’s conviction was the first for a death in custody in 30 years against a police officer. 

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