A police constable who repeatedly hit an ex-footballer with her baton on the night he was killed by her colleague has kept her job.
Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, 33, was found guilty of gross misconduct by an independent tribunal on Friday (17 March). The panel ruled that the West Mercia officer acted wrongly when she struck Dalian Atkinson three times after he had been tasered during an incident in the early hours of 15 August 2016.
The former Aston Villa striker died after being kicked at least twice in the head by Bettley-Smith’s more experienced colleague, PC Benjamin Monk, outside the victim’s father’s home in Telford, Shropshire, six-and-a-half years ago. While the panel found three initial strikes, before Monk’s kicks, were “lawful”, it found PC Bettley-Smith’s decision to then hit Dalian another three times, after police back-up arrived, was “unnecessary, disproportionate and unreasonable in all the circumstances and therefore unlawful”.
Monk was jailed for eight years after being found guilty of manslaughter, while Bettley-Smith, a University of Hull graduate originally from Staffordshire, was acquited of actual bodily harm at trial. She could have been sacked by the disciplinary panel without notice but instead they handed her a final written warning.
How has Dalian Atkinson’s family reacted?
Elaine Atkinson, Dalian’s older sister, said: “I am disappointed really with the outcome because I did feel that it was serious enough (for her to be sacked). That she was found guilty of gross misconduct, and they (the panel) appreciated that, I thought that was good.
“Just disappointment. His life wasn’t as important and what we have gone through the past six years, and the fact they’re talking about her (Bettley-Smith) being on the rack. At the end of the day, Dalian’s gone and it’s down to those officers.”
Asked what the last six-and-a-half years had been like for the family, Ms Atkinson: “Our family has been shattered by it, absolutely shattered. I’m the eldest, he’s the youngest, we just think it shouldn’t be like that – it shouldn’t have happened.”
Asked if she felt Bettley-Smith was an officer who should still be in the job protecting the public, she replied: “I, personally, don’t think so. I suppose they look out for their own, it seems.
“I’m not saying all police are bad – that’s not the case at all. While they (the panel) took the time to get back (with their decision), I thought to myself ‘oh, they’re going to let her off’.”
What did the panel find?
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. 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.”
Why was PC Bettley-Smith not fired?
Following the panel’s findings, Dijen Basu KC, putting the case against PC Bettley-Smith, said: “The conduct is indeed serious but the circumstances were complex, fast-moving, and the panel have looked at the context of the decisions and actions of the officer. She was plainly on the periphery of the actions taken by Pc Monk, which were entirely different, several stages of magnitude different.”
He added: “The panel may wish to consider a final written warning (as its sanction) as well as dismissal. Of course, in the end, it is a matter for the panel.”
What did PC Bettley-Smith’s lawyer say?
Patrick Gibbs KC, acting for the West Mercia PC, 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 her conduct “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”. Mr Gibbs added: “This involves a miscalculation in the heat of moment in the degree of force which still now needed to be used.”