Po­lice­man charged over death of foot­baller

The Guardian - - Front Page - Vikram Dodd

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.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DAVID GADD/SPORTSPHOT­O

The striker Dalian Atkin­son play­ing for As­ton Villa in 1993. The for­mer player died while vis­it­ing his fa­ther in Telford in Au­gust 2016

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