A police officer has been found guilty of the manslaughter of Dalian Atkinson.
Former footballer Atkinson died in 2016 in Telford, Shropshire, following the use of force by West Mercia police officers.
PC Benjamin Monk was charged with both murder and manslaughter. After 18 hours and 48 minutes of deliberation, the jury returned an unanimous verdict of guilty to manslaughter. The murder charge was cleared.
The charity Inquest says until now no cop had been found guilty of murder or manslaughter after a death following police contact in England and Wales in 35 years.
Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, but the jury is yet to return a verdict.
Jurors were directed by the judge to find Monk guilty of murder only if they were sure he intended to cause really serious injury.
They were also instructed to find an alternative charge of manslaughter. This was if they were not sure Monk intended to cause serious harm, but any reasonable person would realise the force would pose a risk of physical harm.
Following the verdict, Atkinson’s family said the past five years “have been an ordeal”.
And the fact that the case has taken nearly five years to get to trial “is completely unacceptable”.
The family said they have been unable to talk about the injuries that Monk inflicted while proceedings were ongoing. But they were “hugely relieved that the whole country now knows the truth about how Dalian died”.
“It has been even harder to sit through this trial and to hear PC Monk try to justify the force he used,” they added.
“On the night he died, Dalian was vulnerable and unwell and needed medical attention. He instead received violence, and died with PC Monk’s boot lace prints bruised onto his forehead.
“We have been sickened to hear PC Monk try to minimise the force he used on Dalian and exaggerate the threat he posed. Fortunately, the jury has seen through the lies and the pretence.”
Monk Tasered Atkinson three times. Two attempts were unsuccessful, but the third lasted six times longer than the standard length after Monk overrode the safety button.
He also kicked Atkinson at least twice in the head with such force that it left bootlace marks on Atkinson.
Monk claimed Atkinson was trying to get up when he aimed kicks at his shoulder in self-defence as a last resort. But prosecutors said Monk intentionally lied about the number of kicks in an interview days afterwards by claiming he could remember only one aimed at his shoulder.
Monk also said he had no recollection of placing his foot on Atkinson’s head as colleagues arrived at the scene, despite witness accounts saying otherwise.
Atkinson went into cardiac arrest after being taken from the scene in an ambulance, and was pronounced dead in hospital at 2.45am.
Kate Maynard from Hickman and Rose solicitors, who represents Atkinson’s family, called the conviction “a landmark”. “This is the first manslaughter conviction in the modern era of a police officer using excessive force in the course of duty,” she said.
“Police officers involved in fatalities have all too rarely faced criminal proceedings. While the wheels of justice have, in this case, turned far too slowly, today’s guilty verdict must mark a turning point.”
And Deborah Coles, Director of Inquest, said the verdict “sends a strong message that the police are not above the law”. “However, the prosecution of a few police officers does not address the racism and discrimination embedded in policing,” she said.
“Since Dalian’s death the roll out and use of the Taser by police has risen significantly.”
This is “despite the well-known risks these weapons pose to people with mental or physical ill health”.
She added that this is “not an isolated case, but part of a systemic problem”. Black men, especially in mental health crises “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,” Coles said.
The guilty verdict should be celebrated. But as with Derick Chauvin’s guilty verdict of the murder of George Floyd in the US, it does not mean the fight against institutional racism and the police is over.
Anti-racists must continue to fight for justice for all victims of police brutality.