UK

A police officer is to keep her job despite being found guilty of gross misconduct for using excessive force after she repeatedly struck former Aston Villa player Dalian Atkinson with a baton.

A disciplinary panel found on Friday that PC Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, a West Mercia officer, acted wrongly when she struck Mr Atkinson three times during an incident on 15 August, 2016, after which the former footballer later died.

The panel could have sacked PC Bettley-Smith without notice, but instead handed her a final written warning, meaning she will be able to keep her job.

The decision was made after barrister Dijen Basu KC, who presented the case against PC Bettley-Smith, said West Mercia’s Police’s deputy chief constable had asked the panel to consider the lesser sanction, as well as dismissal without notice.

Mr Atkinson died after being kicked at least twice in the head by PC Bettley-Smith’s more experienced colleague, PC Benjamin Monk, outside his father’s home in Telford, Shropshire.

The ex-footballer had been tasered to the ground before he was kicked and then PC Bettley-Smith used her police-issue baton claiming she “perceived” he was trying to get up.

Witnesses said the 48-year-old former player was “not moving” and “was not resistant”.

The tribunal found three initial strikes before Monk kicked Mr Atkinson were “lawful”, but it found PC Bettley-Smith’s decision to then hit him a further three times – after police back-up had arrived – was “unnecessary, disproportionate and unreasonable”.

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Monk was jailed for eight years in 2021 after he was convicted of manslaughter by a jury at Birmingham Crown Court.

His conviction is believed to be the first time in modern British criminal justice history that a UK police officer was found guilty of the manslaughter of a black man, according to Inquest, which supports the bereaved following state-related deaths.

PC Bettley-Smith was last year cleared of assaulting Mr Atkinson after a trial – but the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found there was a gross misconduct disciplinary case to answer for her use of force.

Karimulla Khan, chairman of the panel, said on Friday the three baton strikes by PC Bettley-Smith were “unnecessary, disproportionate and unreasonable in all the circumstances and were therefore unlawful”.

Patrick Gibbs KC, representing PC Bettley-Smith, said: “The six and a half years… must be a significant punishment in itself and there will have been a long time of reflection for what happened on that night.”

He said the conduct of the police officer, a University of Hull graduate originally from Staffordshire, “had, until that moment, been admirable” and that her unlawful baton strikes had occurred in the space of a 27-second period.

“This involves a miscalculation in the heat of the moment,” he added.

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