A policewoman accused of assaulting Dalian Atkinson struck him with a baton after he was Tasered because he still posed a threat in an “incomprehensibly difficult, frightening” situation, her barrister has told a court.
Richard Smith QC told jurors that Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith was a “caring person who didn’t have a violent bone in her body”.
Prosecutors allege Bettley-Smith and her West Mercia Police colleague Pc Benjamin Monk used unlawful and unreasonable force out of anger, prior to the death of former Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town striker Atkinson in August 2016.
Monk, 43, has pleaded not guilty to alternative charges of murder and manslaughter while his then girlfriend, Bettley-Smith, 31, denies assaulting Atkinson causing actual bodily harm near his father’s home in Telford, Shropshire.
Benjamin Monk (Joe Giddens/PA)
In his closing speech to the jury on Friday, Mr Smith urged jurors to ask themselves whether it was remotely fair for the Crown to claim Bettley-Smith was not scared at the scene.
Defending the University of Hull social work graduate, Mr Smith invited jurors to consider how they would judge a member of their own family who found themselves in “a tremendously difficult situation, an incomprehensibly difficult, frightening situation.”
Mr Smith told the jury at Birmingham Crown Court: “At the heart of your deliberation is this – did Ellie Bettley-Smith believe or may she have believed that Dalian Atkinson still posed a threat when she used her baton.
“And intertwined with that core consideration is what my lord (the judge) has already directed you about.
“That even if her perception of the threat – the movement, the noises – were mistaken, then, in my words, that matters not.
“If she genuinely perceived a threat, even if it’s mistaken how it came about, then she was not acting unlawfully, end of story.”
Dalian Atkinson pictured during his time at Aston Villa in the early 1990s (PA)
The Crown claims Bettley-Smith and Monk have deliberately exaggerated Mr Atkinson’s stature and behaviour in order to justify their actions after excessive use of a Taser by the male officer, who kicked the 48-year-old twice to the head.
Mr Smith added: “To suggest she wasn’t as scared as she has made out, is that remotely fair?”
Pointing out that Bettley-Smith had told a sergeant at the scene “I thought I was a goner”, Mr Smith said: “They were seen to run away. Police officers… they don’t run away unless they are scared.
“She pressed her emergency button. Why did she do that? That little button is put on the top of the radio to save lives.”
Mr Smith said of Atkinson: “This was a man who had threatened to kill his own father.
“People who hid behind their bedroom windows… found it to be extraordinarily frightening. Just pause for a moment and ask yourself how Ellie Bettley-Smith would have felt.
“We suggest to you, members of the jury, that what the evidence drives you to is a conclusion that she did genuinely believe when Mr Atkinson tragically fell on to the ground on that third Taser, that he still posed a threat.”
The scene in Trench, Telford (Joe Giddens/PA)
Concluding his address, Mr Smith said he had every confidence that if the jury treated the case “as you would for one of your own”, its decision would not be difficult with regard to Bettley-Smith.
He described the case as terribly sad and tragic, adding: “When it is so sad one can sometimes understand why there is a thirst for someone to be made accountable, but we place our trust in you in that regard.
“We have spent hours in this courtroom… air-conditioned, quietly looking at documents, making notes – reliving exactingly what took place.
“She ran across, she looked, she assessed, and she acted. That’s the context in which you have to judge her.
“This was an officer who had a profound lack of experience. She had never been in anything like this before.”
Mr Smith said of the Taser fired at Mr Atkinson: “Ellie Bettley-Smith hadn’t even seen one used in her very short time in the force.
“We submit that when you look carefully at the evidence, there is no safe foundation at all on which you can conclude that she did not genuinely believe that Dalian Atkinson still posed a threat.”
The trial judge will start summing up the evidence in the case on Monday.