Two police officers accused of unlawfully attacking Dalian Atkinson “colluded” in their account of what happened after he was Tasered, murder trial prosecutors have claimed.
The Crown alleges Pc Benjamin Monk murdered the ex-Aston Villa star by kicking him in the head intending serious harm, while the officer’s then partner, Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, who denies assault, struck blows with a baton out of anger.
The second day of the officers’ trial at Birmingham Crown Court was told by Monk’s lawyer that the 42-year-old does not dispute kicking Atkinson in the head twice, despite telling investigators he believed he had delivered a single kick to what he thought was the shoulder area to “restrain and control” the retired footballer.
Jurors also heard that Atkinson had ripped out his dialysis line shortly before he was confronted by the officers outside his father’s home in Meadow Close, Telford, in the early hours of August 15, 2016.
Jurors were told Monk, who denies murder and manslaughter, and Bettley-Smith, who has pleaded not guilty to assault, were interviewed under caution on August 26 2016, and in January 2017.
The trial heard on Tuesday that Atkinson, who also played for Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday, went into cardiac arrest after a Taser was deployed for 33 seconds, six times longer than is standard.
A post-mortem examination also concluded Atkinson had no defensive injuries to his hands or forearms after he was Tasered.
Summarising what Monk said to investigators, prosecution QC Alexandra Healy told the court: “He described how when he was approaching (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).”
Monk told investigators 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 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, Atkinson rested against a bollard before he fired the Taser for a third time when he walked towards the officers talking again of taking him to the “gates of hell”.
Concluding her opening speech, Ms Healy said the jury would have to consider whether Monk had intended to cause really serious injury.
Alleging Bettley-Smith had colluded in her account surrounding the kicks to Mr Atkinson’s head, Ms Healy told the court: “The prosecution say that once that last Taser deployment had been totally effective, causing Dalian Atkinson to fall to the ground as a result of neuromuscular incapacitation… the officers were no longer acting in self-defence.
“Rather they acted in anger as a result of the fear that Dalian Atkinson had just put them through.
“Having been afraid earlier, they were angry about it, the prosecution say.
“Delivering two forceful kicks to Mr Atkinson’s head cannot have been an act in reasonable self-defence. It is difficult to see how a kick to the head could ever be a reasonable act taken to prevent Mr Atkinson from getting up.
“The prosecution say that Pc Bettley-Smith appears to have colluded in not telling the truth about the kicks to the head.
“The prosecution say the similarity of the accounts is indicative that the two officers have discussed between themselves how best to account for their unlawful attack on an unarmed man.”
Following Ms Healy’s speech, the QC acting for Pc Monk said the officer does not dispute kicking the ex-footballer twice in the head – but only did so while he was “terrified”.
In a brief address to the court, defence QC Patrick Gibbs urged jurors to keep an open mind until they had heard all the evidence.
After submitting Mr Atkinson had been a “good person and a much-loved person” who was extremely unwell in 2016, causing him to act uncharacteristically, Mr Gibbs told the court: “It is not in dispute that Mr Monk must have kicked Dalian Atkinson twice in the head.
“That is the only explanation for the marks on his forehead.
“What is in dispute is why did he do that? He has always said he was terrified and that Mr Atkinson, after that third Taser (use) had been effective, initially at least, he was trying to get up.”
Mr Gibbs told jurors Mr Atkinson’s death was “multi-factorial” and the medical evidence was “amongst the most complex, if not the most medically complex, forensic pathology case” that a pathologist involved in the case had dealt with.
The barrister said the medical evidence would take at least a week to set out.
Urging the jury to keep an open mind until they had heard all the evidence, Mr Gibbs added: “The key events took six minutes. Mr Monk and Miss Bettley-Smith arrived in Meadow Close at 1.36am.
“The third Taser cartridge was fired five minutes after that, at 1.41am.
“Mr Monk and Miss Bettley-Smith are said to have acted lawfully, everyone agrees, for those first five minutes.
“But they’re then accused of having acted unlawfully in the sixth minute.
“Another of the important things I suggest you will have to decide is whether that distinction is either realistic, or fair, actually.”
Richard Smith QC, Bettley-Smith’s barrister, said his client “continues to say that the use of the baton by her was lawful”, adding: “She genuinely believed, in the heat of the moment, in the circumstances she found herself in, that the use of that baton was necessary and reasonable.”
Karen Wright, Mr Atkinson’s partner at the time, described how in the hours before the fatal incident, the ex-footballer was at home when he said: “You’ll see when I am dead, I am the Messiah.”
In previous weeks she told jurors Mr Atkinson “was quite convinced that he was going to be killed or he was going to be not be with us any more”.
Ms Wright said: “He said the NHS or the police will kill me.”
She added he had also told her: “When I am dead, you will see the world is sock-shaped.”
An “agitated” Mr Atkinson then pulled his dialysis line out, as they were sat watching television, and said: “I’m free, I don’t need it, I’m free.”
The couple were due to drive to Cheshire on the Monday for Mr Atkinson to start new kidney treatment.
But Ms Wright said Mr Atkinson kept saying he wanted to see his brother, Paul, and his father, Ernest, before going.
She pleaded with him to stay but he grabbed the keys to her Porsche Cayenne, and at 1am left their home.
She rang him at about 1.30am and when Mr Atkinson answered she could hear his father speaking in the background.
Ms Wright said: “I heard the sound of the door opening and then a third voice and then Dalian left the phone on, and I could hear him say ‘do you know who you’re speaking to?’.
“It wasn’t to me, it was to somebody else. I heard him say it two times.”
Asked if the call continued, Ms Wright said: “No, it just went dead.”
The trial continues.
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