A police officer has been charged with the murder of footballer Dalian Atkinson who died after being tasered. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced last week – and over a year after the police watchdog concluded its investigation and referred the matter – that it would be bringing charges against two West Mercia Police officers in connection with the death of Dalian Atkinson on 15th August 2016.
One officer has been charged with murder, with an alternative charge of unlawful act manslaughter, while the other has been charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The actions of a third officer, also the subject of the IOPC investigation, were not referred to the CPS.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) indicated that Dalian Atkinson’s encounter with the police ‘involved the use of a Taser, followed by a period of restraint and other uses of force’. Atkinson was subsequently taken to the Princess Royal Hospital. He went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance and CPR was administered for more than half an hour by medical staff before he was pronounced dead.
The two defendants have not been named as they have indicated their intention to ask the court to grant them anonymity, with a final ruling on this to be made on Wednesday. They are expected to appear in court on 9thDecember.
Speaking on behalf of Atkinson’s family, Hickman & Rose Partner Kate Maynard 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.’
The CPS’s decision was also welcomed by INQUEST, who are supporting the family. The organisation’s director, Deborah Coles, observed that ‘the hope of many bereaved families, that police officers involved in a death are held to account to a criminal standard, is too often denied’. ‘As such, today’s decision from the CPS – though long awaited – is welcome.’ However, she pointed to harmful delays in investigating and prosecuting deaths in custody or following police contact echoing concerns as outlined in an independent review more than two years ago.
There have reportedly been at least 18 deaths in the UK involving the discharge of a Taser by police. It is believed to be the first time an officer has been charged with murder following the use of a Taser. INQUEST reports that since 1990, when it began recording, ‘no police officer has been found guilty of murder or manslaughter following a death in police contact or custody’. It notes in all ten cases in which murder or manslaughter charges have been brought against police officers during this period ‘trials have collapsed or officers have been acquitted by the jury’.
Recent reports have revealed that Tasers, and other forms of restraint, are disproportionately used by police against people of colour. Figures analysed by the Guardian in relation to the Metropolitan Police indicate that police used Tasers and otherwise restrained black people more than four times as often as white people. Despite clear concerns that the police are not able to use Tasers and other forms of restraint in a safe and non-discriminatory manner, the Home Office has recently announced the allocation of £10 million to arm more than 10,000 additional police officers with these devices.