28 September 2022
PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith has today been acquitted of charges of assault against Dalian Atkinson at Birmingham Crown Court.
Dalian, 48, died on 15 August 2016, following use of force by officers of West Mercia police. This included multiple and prolonged use of Taser, baton strikes, and kicks to the head.
In June 2021, PC Benjamin Monk, was found guilty of the manslaughter of Dalian and sentenced to eight years in prison. Bettley-Smith also stood trial at that time, but the jury could not reach a verdict, so she faced this retrial of charges under section 47 Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 (Actual Bodily Harm).
Dalian Atkinson’s family said: “Whilst we are disappointed in today’s verdict, it brings an end to legal processes which have lasted over six years. Not a day has gone by since Dalian’s death in August 2016 when we haven’t thought that if it hadn’t been for the actions of the police, he might still be with us now.
Six years is far too long for any grieving family to have to wait to achieve closure. In the time since Dalian’s death, George Floyd was killed in America by a police officer, and we note that the officer was tried and convicted within a year of George’s death.
There are many things about the American criminal justice system that are not admirable, but delay in getting accountability for bereaved families under our criminal justice system is unacceptable: the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the Crown Prosecution Service must do better.”
Anita Sharma, Head of Casework at INQUEST, said: “Dalian was in a mental health crisis and needed support, but instead was met with brutality from the police.
It is vital that police involved in deaths are held accountable and face criminal investigations and trials of this nature. While we feel it is hard to reconcile this outcome with the evidence, we welcome the level of scrutiny this case has received. It has however taken far too long.
Many more Black men have died in deeply concerning circumstances at the hands of police since Dalian. We must see the same rigour applied to those cases and ensure criminal investigations and prosecutions follow, where there is excessive and disproportionate use of police force.”
Kate Maynard of Hickman & Rose said: “Sadly, it remains unusual for a jury to be given the chance to determine whether a police officer is guilty of unlawful violence in the course of their duty. Despite the not guilty verdict today, the Crown Prosecution Service should have confidence in bringing more police officers to trial in relation to their use of force.
As other recent high profile police deaths have shown, swift and robust accountability is essential for the public and bereaved families to have faith in the criminal justice system, including IOPC homicide investigations.
In the meantime, we call for a speedy decision on police disciplinary action for Ms Bettley-Smith.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
For more information contact Lucy McKay on [email protected]
More background on the previous criminal trial is available here.
The family are represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members, Kate Maynard and Helen Stone of Hickman and Rose solicitors, and Fiona Murphy of Doughty Street Chambers and Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers. They are working with INQUEST Head of Casework, Anita Sharma.
CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS OF POLICE OFFICERS INVOLVED IN DEATHS
Except for PC Monk, no police officer has been found guilty of murder or manslaughter following a death in police contact or custody in England and Wales since before INQUEST began recording in 1990.
Murder or manslaughter charges have been brought against police officers in ten other cases since 1990. In all cases trials have collapsed or officers have been acquitted by the jury.
Both successful and unsuccessful prosecutions have also been brought following deaths in police contact under Health and Safety legislation.
Other criminal charges against officers, such as perjury and misconduct in public office, have been brought following deaths in custody, but most have led to acquittals or not guilty verdicts. One exception is that in March 2007, a Derbyshire police officer who failed to check on a man in police custody, despite signing forms stating that he had, was found guilty of misconduct in public office.
Prior to PC Monk, the last successful prosecution of a police officer for manslaughter took place in 1986, following the death of Henry Foley, a 67 year old man who died from injuries inflicted by police officers whilst in custody. The officer was found not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to seven years. More information.