A police constable accused of murdering Dalian Atkinson has claimed the former footballer threatened to take him ‘to the gates of hell’.
The second day of a trial at Birmingham Crown Court heard that Pc Benjamin Monk made the claim while telling investigators he kicked the ex-Aston Villa star, 48, once to ‘control and restrain’ him after he was tasered to the ground.
The trial also heard that Mr Atkinson, who also played for Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday, went into cardiac arrest and died on August 15, 2016 in Telford, Shropshire, after a Taser was deployed for six times longer than is standard.
Mr Atkinson was tasered for 33 seconds it is claimed, before collapsing to the ground where he was allegedly kicked in the head by Monk.
Pc Mary Bettley-Smith, 31, who was in a relationship with Monk at the time, is then alleged to have struck the former footballer with a baton.
Summarising what Monk, now 42, said to investigators, prosecution QC Alexandra Healy told the court: ‘He described how when he was approaching (Mr Atkinson’s father’s house) he was aware of a very loud row taking place within the property, with one voice much louder than the other.
‘He explained that when Mr Atkinson appeared at the doorway of the house he was in an obvious rage and said ‘This is the Messiah’.
‘He said he produced the Taser, but Mr Atkinson, who Pc Monk did not know, was apparently unconcerned when presented with the Taser, saying, ‘I am going to take you to the gates of hell’.
‘Pc Monk was, he said, fearful for himself, his partner and whoever was in (the property).’
Benjamin Monk, 41, and Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, 29, at Birmingham Crown Court in 2019. Monk is charged with the murder of Dalian Atkinson while Bettley-Smith is charged with assault. The officers were lovers at the time of Mr Atkinson’s death
Mr Atkinson, who also played for Manchester City, Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday, died in 2016 in Telford, Shropshire
West Mercia Police Constables Benjamin Monk (right) and Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith arrive at Birmingham Crown Court yesterday where Monk is accused of the murder, and an alternative charge of manslaughter, of former footballer Dalian Atkinson and Bettley-Smith is charged with assaulting Mr Atkinson. Both defendants have denied the charges
Monk told investigators Mr Atkinson stepped towards him, so he deployed his Taser.
Ms Healy added: ‘This was wholly ineffective and so he told Pc Bettley-Smith, who by this stage had pressed the emergency button on her radio, to run.
‘After what must have been, he said, a short time, Mr Atkinson stopped running and so they, the officers, therefore also stopped running.’
Monk said Mr Atkinson then swore at him and walked back towards his father’s house, punching through the glass of the front door.
Ms Healy said: ‘Because of that, concerned for the occupants of the address, Pc Monk deployed the Taser for a second time. Again, it was wholly ineffective.’
According to Monk’s account, Mr Atkinson rested against a bollard after the Taser was fired for a second time.
Ms Healy continued: ‘Mr Monk said he loaded the third and final cartridge into his Taser and Mr Atkinson walked towards him, talking again of taking him to the ‘gates of hell’.
‘Pc Monk then discharged the Taser once more and on this occasion it was, in his words, ‘completely effective’. He said Mr Atkinson went ‘rigid’ with neuromuscular incapacitation and he fell forward. He said had that Taser not worked ‘we were completely done for’.’
Jurors have heard Monk then made a radio transmission to say ‘I’ve got him down’ after Mr Atkinson, 48, fell into the road.
Ms Healy, who has alleged that both officers were angry by the time Mr Atkinson was tasered for a third time, said Monk told investigators he walked up to the former footballer and told him to stay where he was.
Ms Healy added: ‘At this point, Mr Atkinson rolled slightly on to his right hand side and looked at him.
Mr Atkinson (left) had been a successful professional footballer, playing for Aston Villa between 1991 and 1995. His brother Kenroy (right) attended the murder trial yesterday
Dalian Anderson celebrates after scoring for Aston Villa against Ipswich Town in August 1992
‘He was making some sort of conversation directed at Pc Monk. Mr Atkinson was leaning on his right arm and brushing his chest in an apparent attempt to clear the Taser barbs and trying, he said, to get up.
‘At that stage, Pc Bettley-Smith struck Mr Atkinson to his lower legs, but that did not work and so he (Monk), he says, delivered a single kick with his right foot to the area that he believed to be Mr Atkinson’s left shoulder.
‘He said he did this in order to enable him to control and then restrain Mr Atkinson.’
On further questioning, the court heard, Monk said he did not know where the kick landed, but he emphasised it was single kick.
Ms Healy, describing the account Bettley-Smith gave to investigators after the incident, said: ‘She thought that she was in real danger.’
She added: ‘In relation to the third Taser deployment, she gave a broadly similar account to that of Pc Monk.
‘She asserted that he having been put to the ground, Mr Atkinson started to try to turn over and to pull out, or try to pull out, the Taser wires and she said he was shouting and swearing.
‘She said she struck Mr Atkinson on the legs with her baton, because she maintained he was attempting to get up and, at that stage, Pc Monk kicked him.’
Concluding her opening, Ms Healy said: ‘So, reflecting on that, both officers are saying, aren’t they, that the force they used on Dalian Atkinson was in reasonable self defence or defence of another – either their colleague officer or the person in the house.
‘Moreover, you will hear, the defence for Pc Monk challenge the suggestion that the force used by Pc Monk significantly contributed to the death of Dalian Atkinson.’
She added it was the prosecution’s case that once the third, final Taser shot ‘had been totally effective’, that ‘the officers were no longer acting in self defence’.
‘Rather they acted in anger, as a result of the fear Dalian Atkinson had just put them through.
‘So, having been afraid earlier, they were angry about it, the prosecution say.’
Ms Healy said: ‘Pc Bettley-Smith struck Mr Atkinson repeatedly with a baton whilst he lay on the ground.
From back left, former footballers Nick Barmby, Jamie Redknapp, Dalian Atkinson (circled), and from front left, Ray Parlour, Chris Waddle, Paul Ince and Gary Speed share a Jacuzzi
Police were called to the home of Mr Atkinson’s father after the former Premier League star, who also played for Ipswich Town, Sheffield Wednesday and Manchester City, was spotted acting erratically outside the property
‘The prosecution do not say those blows significantly contributed to his death but, as I explained to you, those acts constituted an assault that caused Dalian Atkinson actual bodily harm.
‘She caused him the extensive bruising the pathologist found during the post-mortem.’
Turning to Pc Monk’s actions, the prosecution’s barrister said: ‘Delivering two forceful kicks to Mr Atkinson’s head cannot have been an act in reasonable self defence, we say.
‘It is is difficult, isn’t it, to see how a kick to the head could ever be a reasonable act taken to prevent Mr Atkinson from getting up. That’s difficult to see.
‘The prosecution say it’s impossible to see how two kicks could have been (reasonable).’
Ms Healy said: ‘Consider this, the fact that Pc Monk in his first interview claimed to have kicked Dalian Atkinson only once to the left shoulder area.
‘Consider that when, as you may remember, the evidence that you will hear is that other officers heard him say at the scene ‘I had to kick him in the head’.’
She added: ‘That demonstrates to you that Pc Monk knew full well he had kicked Mr Atkinson in the head and it demonstrates that he knows that is impossible for him to justify it as being reasonable self defence.
‘So – aware of that – he has sought to present his account of what happened in a more reasonable light by saying it was a kick to his shoulder.’
In her final remarks, the Crown’s QC added: ‘Reflecting on the similarity between the two accounts given in the interviews, the prosecution say Pc Bettley-Smith appears to have colluded in not telling the truth about the kicks to the head.
‘The prosecution say the similarity in their accounts is indicative, it suggests, the two officers discussed between themselves how best to account for what they knew was an unlawful attack on an unarmed man – the unarmed Dalian Atkinson.
‘In deciding to kick Dalian Atkinson two times to the head, the prosecution say Pc Monk must have intended to cause him serious injury.
‘In considering whether his acts significantly contributed to Dalian Atkinson’s death that night, the prosecution say, when all of the expert evidence is considered on this issue, you can be sure that they did.’
Ms Healy said a pathologist gave a narrative cause of death, following a post-mortem.
Recounting the conclusions, Ms Healy said: ‘The cause of death, in his view, was cardio respiratory arrest close in time to deployment of Taser, followed by brief period of restraint and blunt force trauma in a person who had two serious underlying health conditions; the heart disease and the kidney disease.’
Former Aston Villa manager Ron Atkinson holding the League Cup with Atkinson in 1994. The striker scored once in Villa’s 3-1 victory over Manchester United
Police officers at the scene after Mr Atkinson was killed in 2016, dying of cardiac arrest
Ms Healy said the pathologist concluded bruising inflicted on Mr Atkinson’s body, apparently caused by baton strikes delivered by Bettley-Smith, had ‘not significantly or materially contributed to Mr Atkinson’s death’.
Yesterday, Ms Healy said that Mr Atkinson stood with his arms out and said ‘I am the Messiah’ moments before he was Tasered for 33 seconds, more than six times the standard five-second phase.
As he lay incapacitated, he was then allegedly kicked in the head repeatedly by Monk, so hard that his boot was imprinted on the former footballer’s skull.
Bettley-Smith is then said to have struck the incapacitated Mr Atkinson with a baton several times while Monk shouted ‘f***ing hit him’.
Ms Healy said an ambulance was called by other officers at the scene and it arrived within four minutes.
She said that Pc Mark Bedford heard Monk tell one of the attending paramedics: ‘He may be a bit bloody as I’ve had to kick him.’
Today, the prosecuting barrister went through the post-mortem report into Mr Atkinson’s death.
Ms Healy said the Crown asked the opinion of three medical experts to consider all the post-mortem findings.
She added: ‘The three experts agreed that at some stage in the events after the third deployment of Taser, Mr Atkinson became unconscious.
‘They were in no doubt that being rendered unconscious made a significant contribution to his death because, as I have explained, unconsciousness relaxes the airway.
‘That, in turn, has an impact on the ability of an unconscious person to breathe and in the case of Mr Atkinson that was particularly significant for two reasons.
‘Firstly, because of the impaired breathing. Difficultly breathing for somebody who has an enlarged, heavy heart is inherently dangerous – in the end the heart will just stop.
‘Secondly was the significance of his kidney disease. Because Mr Atkinson’s kidneys did not work well, his body will have needed him to breathe well at all times.’
Dalian Atkinson tributes are left outside Villa Park in 2016 shortly after news of his death broke
Ms Healy added: ‘The combination of loss of consciousness, leading to a reduction in the ability to breathe.
‘The increased carbon dioxide levels and therefore the worsening acidity – acidosis – and decreased oxygen levels, will have caused the heart to weaken and the heartbeat to get slower, until it stops.’
She added: ‘The longer the tasering went on for, the greater its causative significance – the more important its causation was.
‘Because the period it will have had a harmful impact on Mr Atkinson’s breathing and stress or pain will have been longer.
‘In their view, the most likely explanation for Mr Atkinson’s unconsciousness are the kicks to his head.’
Police were called to the home of Mr Atkinson’s father after the former Premier League star, who also played for Manchester City, Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday, was spotted acting erratically outside the property.
Monk and Bettley-Smith attended the scene where Atkinson, who had serious health problems including end stage renal failure, confronted them while ranting he was the ‘Messiah’.
Monk shot Atkinson twice with his taser, which proved to be ineffective, before deploying the weapon again. Jurors were told the standard default setting of a taser is a five second phase – but Monk overrode that and continued to press the trigger for a total of 33 seconds.
Atkinson, who was unarmed, fell to the ground where Monk delivered at least two kicks to his forehead. Bettley-Smith is then said to have battered him with her extendable baton as the two ‘angry’ officers ‘set about him’ as he lay on the ground ‘unresponsive and still’.
Medics got ‘no verbal response’ from Mr Atkinson and had to cut off his T-shirt and jacket to attach a monitor, measuring his heart rate at 54 beats per minute, ‘which was a little below normal’, added Ms Healy.
She added that a constable, referred to in court as Pc Edwards, went with Mr Atkinson in the ambulance to hospital.
‘He was concerned that Dalian was feigning illness so Mr Atkinson’s handcuffs were not removed’, added Ms Healy.
Ms Healy said paramedic James Roberts described the heart monitor readings as ‘not quite normal’ and the decision was taken to pre-alert a doctor and resuscitation team at the hospital, before the ambulance left the scene at 2.04am.
‘(Mr Atkinson) had a reduced score on the Glasgow Coma Scale of less than nine, indicating unconsciousness,’ said the Crown’s QC.
She added that two minutes into the short journey Mr Atkinson’s breathing ‘became more laboured’ and the constable removed one of the hand-cuffs, so the patient could be moved onto his back.
Ms Healy said the journey to hospital was no more than six minutes, adding: ‘Dalian was still breathing on arrival.’
However, in the space of 30 seconds, Mr Atkinson’s condition ‘declined quickly’ she added.
The remaining handcuff was removed and a bag-valve mask was used to help Mr Atkinson’s breathing, however by the time he was placed on a resuscitation trolley ‘paramedics considered that Mr Atkinson was in cardiac arrest’.
Ms Healy said: ‘Chest compressions were commenced and further treatment of adrenaline and defibrillator shocks were given but despite the efforts of the doctors and other hospital staff, Dalian Atkinson was pronounced dead at 2.44am.’
After the incident, Pc Benjamin Monk and Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith returned to Malinsgate police station in Telford, Shropshire, said Ms Healy.
The prosecution barrister said: ‘They told Sgt Stephens they were so scared they had actually run away from the man before engaging with him.
‘Bettley-Smith said he was shouting he was the Messiah and that he had killed someone.’
Within minutes of arriving at the station, while Monk was out of the room, Bettley-Smith was told by her sergeant that Mr Atkinson had since died.
Ms Healy said: ‘Bettley-Smith was visibly upset on hearing the man had died.’