PC guilty of gross misconduct for repeatedly hitting ex-Premier League star Dalian Atkinson to keep job

17 March 2023, 12:43 | Updated: 17 March 2023, 16:12

Police constable Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith has been found guilty of gross misconduct
Police constable Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith has been found guilty of gross misconduct. Picture: Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A police constable found guilty of gross misconduct for using excessive force against ex-Aston Villa player Dalian Atkinson will keep her job.

Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith used "outrageous" and "unnecessary" force when she hit Mr Atkinson with a baton after he had been tasered to the ground, her disciplinary panel was told.

But a disciplinary panel ruled today that she would remain in her job as some of the baton strikes were 'lawful'.

Giving the misconduct tribunal's findings, chairman Karimulla Khan said: "In those circumstances, the panel finds the first three baton strikes were lawful.

"There was then the intervening kick, by Pc (Ben) Monk, at which point, Pc Bettley-Smith then applied a second set of three baton strikes.

"The second set of three baton strikes, in light of the kicks.

"And the panel finds that the second set of three baton strikes were unnecessary, disproportionate and unreasonable in all the circumstances and were therefore unlawful."

Patrick Gibbs KC, acting for Pc Bettley-Smith, said: "The six and a half years... must be a significant punishment in itself and there will have ben a long time of reflection for what happened on that night."

He said the conduct of Pc Bettley-Smith, a University of Hull graduate originally from Staffordshire, "had, until that moment, been admirable, certainly unimpeachable conduct" and that her unlawful baton strikes had occurred in the space of a 27-second period, following which she had again presented "admirable conduct".

"This involves a miscalculation in the heat of moment in the degree of force which still now needed to be used," he added.

The West Mercia Police officer acted wrongly when she hit Mr Atkinson three times with her police-issued baton in the early hours on August 15, 2016.

Mr Atkinson died after being kicked in the head twice by Bettley-Smith's colleague, PC Benjamin Monk, who was later found guilty of his manslaughter.

Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith
Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith. Picture: Alamy

The incident took place outside the home of Mr Atkinson's father in Telford, Shropshire, almost seven years ago.

After Mr Atkinson was tasered to the ground and kicked in the head by Monk, Bettley-Smith used her baton on him, claiming she "perceived" he was trying to get up, the tribunal was told.

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However, several witnesses say the ex-footballer "was not moving" and "was not resistant". Monk was jailed for eight years in 2021 after his conviction at Birmingham Crown Court for manslaughter.

Bettley-Smith was cleared of assaulting Mr Atkinson following a trial, but the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) initiated a gross misconduct disciplinary case.

Former Premier League star Dalian Atkinson
Former Premier League star Dalian Atkinson. Picture: Alamy

The panel found three initial strikes were lawful, but said her decision to hit Mr Atkinson a further three times - after police back-up had arrived - were "unnecessary" and "disproportionate".

Giving the misconduct tribunal's findings, legally-qualified chairman Karimulla Khan said: "In those circumstances, the panel finds the first three baton strikes were lawful.

Benjamin Monk was later found guilty of manslaughter
Benjamin Monk was later found guilty of manslaughter. Picture: Alamy

"There was then the intervening kick, by Pc (Ben) Monk, at which point, Pc Bettley-Smith then applied a second set of three baton strikes.

"The second set of three baton strikes, in light of the kicks.

"And the panel finds that the second set of three baton strikes were unnecessary, disproportionate and unreasonable in all the circumstances and were therefore unlawful."

The panel will now hear evidence on whether the 33-year-old should be allowed to keep her job or face a lesser sanction later on Friday.

A tribute for Dalian Atkinson is seen on the screen inside the stadium during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Huddersfield Town
A tribute for Dalian Atkinson is seen on the screen inside the stadium during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Huddersfield Town. Picture: Getty

Dalian Atkinson was a former English striker who played for a variety of clubs across Europe, including Ipswich Town, Sheffield Wednesday and Real Sociedad.

He is most famous for his four-year stint at Aston Villa, where he scored 25 goals in 85 appearances.

He then left for Fenerbahçe, where he scored 10 goals in 21 appearances between 1995 and 1997.

After retiring in 2001, Mr Atkinson returned to Telford, living in Little Dawley. He had suffered with his heart and kidney problems in his remaining few years.

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