Policeman charged over death of footballer
A police constable was yesterday charged with the murder of the former footballer Dalian Atkinson, following the fatal encounter in which a stun gun and other force was used.
Atkinson, who played for Aston Villa and Manchester City, died aged 48 after a fracas outside his father’s home in Telford, Shropshire, in the early hours of 15 August 2016.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said two officers, both constables with the West Mercia force, will be prosecuted. One has been charged with murder, with a possible sentence of life imprisonment. He also faced an alternate charge of manslaughter. The other officer had been charged with assault causing actual bodily harm.
Neither officer has been named. But it is rare for an officer to face a charge of murder for their actions while performing their duties.
The incident was initially investigated by the police watchdog. The Independent Office for Police Conduct then referred the case to the CPS in October 2018 to consider if criminal charges should be brought.
The IOPC had previously
said of its inquiry: “The investigation gathered evidence which indicates that police contact with Mr Atkinson involved the use of a Taser, followed by a period of restraint and other uses of force.”
The incident happened while Atkinson, who lived nearby, was visiting his father in Meadow Close, Telford. A neighbour phoned the police and officers attended at 1.30am. Atkinson was pronounced dead 90 minutes later in hospital.
Jenny Hopkins, of the CPS, said Atkinson’s family had been informed of the charges. “This decision was made following a careful review of all the evidence presented to us by the Independent Office for Police Conduct following an investigation,” she said.
Atkinson started his career at Ipswich Town and played for Sheffield Wednesday and Real Sociedad before moving to Villa.
At Villa, he scored more than 20 goals in the top flight of English football between 1991 and 1995 before going on to play for teams including Fenerbahçe and Manchester City.
In cases involving death after contact with the police, both the families of the victims and the officers complain about the length of time it takes to investigate and decide on any charges. Those involved in this case will face a further wait until criminal trials next year.
Kate Maynard, the solicitor for the Atkinson family, said: “Dalian’s family welcomes the decision to put the conduct of police officers before a jury but regrets that already more than three years have passed since Dalian died. They ask for their privacy to be respected and press for the criminal proceedings to progress without delay or obstruction.”
The West Mercia chief constable, Anthony Bangham, said: “Our thoughts continue to remain with the family and friends of Dalian Atkinson at this difficult time.
“We understand the need for answers. However, as court proceedings are now under way it would not be appropriate for us to make any further comment regarding the circumstances of Mr Atkinson’s death.
“The officers involved have a right to a fair trial and we will continue to make sure they have the appropriate support throughout the forthcoming criminal justice process.”
When asked if the officers had been suspended, a West Mercia police spokesperson said: “There will be a process around the officers’ duty status following the CPS decision today.”
Derrick Campbell, of the IOPC, said: “We appreciate the patience shown by all concerned during our thorough and independent investigation and the period it was with the CPS for consideration. We have kept Mr Atkinson’s family, West Mercia police and the coroner informed throughout.”
Deborah Coles of Inquest, which helps families whose relatives have died after contact with police, said: “Two years ago, an independent review of deaths in police custody by Dame Elish Angiolini QC highlighted the negative impact of delays in investigations and prosecutions like this.
“Angiolini recommended that such cases be dealt with in the same timescales as a civilian homicide case. Clearly there is still much work to be done to meet those standards.”
The striker Dalian Atkinson playing for Aston Villa in 1993. The former player died while visiting his father in Telford in August 2016