The police officers involved in the death of ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson did not tell colleagues and investigators that they were in a relationship at the time, The Telegraph can reveal.
After the former footballer was killed on August 15, 2016, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) launched an investigation into the death of the 48-year-old.
Three days later, the police watchdog declared that Pc Benjamin Monk and Pc Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith were subject to a criminal investigation and were interviewed under caution.
The investigation team interviewed 15 West Mercia Police officers, carried out more than 600 lines of enquiry and reviewed over 2,000 documents in order to compile a comprehensive report.
But during the course of this evidence gathering, not once was it mentioned that Monk and Bettley-Smith were lovers at the time, staying overnight at each other’s houses.
In October 2018, the IOPC handed their findings to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who in turn charged the pair in November 2019.
But The Telegraph can now reveal that the IOPC and West Mercia Police only became aware of Monk and Bettley-Smith’s relationship in late 2019, substantially after the investigation had concluded and a file had been sent to the CPS.
Dalian Atkinson, the former footballer, died in August 2016 after being Tasered and kicked in the head
Credit: Jon Nicholson/Mail On Sunday/REX/Shutterstock
A West Mercia Police spokesman said: "We were not aware at the time of the incident that Pcs Monk and Bettley-Smith were in a relationship, and didn’t become aware until much later in the IOPC investigation."
Asked if the force had been complicit in covering up their relationship, the spokesman said "absolutely not".
A West Mercia Police spokesman told The Telegraph: "Relationships between officers were allowed at the time, and continue to be so.
"In 2016, it would have been considered best practice, as it is now, to declare the relationship. This helps to ensure fairness and equality in the workplace and for supervisors to take mitigating action to avoid any conflict of interest."
While it’s not legally binding for officers to declare relationships with colleagues, the guidance from the College of Policing is to raise it with a line manager should it be a potential issue.
The guidance states it is "each individual’s personal responsibility to declare any conflicts of interest" when a relationship “could result in a negative impact on public confidence, or the ability of a force to deliver an effective and efficient police service being undermined".
In 2019, after the IOPC investigation, West Mercia Police adopted the College of Policing guidelines, linked to the Code of Ethics, in relation to workplace relationships.
In August 2016, both officers were suspended, and were re-assigned to non-frontline roles on restricted duties in February 2018.
But this was short-lived and in November 2019 they were once again suspended after being charged.
Jury questions relationship
They both remain subject to a gross misconduct investigation.
The jury raised the issue, sending a note to the recorder of Birmingham, Melbourne Inman QC, midway through the trial asking if police officers were allowed to be in a relationship together.
Bettley-Smith joined the force on February 9, 2015 – a day before her 25th birthday. Monk was already a 13-year veteran at West Mercia Police by this stage, and had not long separated from his former wife. The pair struck up a friendship, which turned into a sexual relationship.
By the time they were called to Meadow Close in Telford in the early hours of August 15, 2016, they had been in an intimate relationship for a number of months. And it was this relationship, the Crown argued, that caused Monk to lose his cool and kick the ex-footballer in the head twice so hard that it left imprints of his bootlaces on his forehead.
Monk had been so humiliated at being so scared he had to run away from Mr Atkinson, the 6ft officer lashed out in anger and killed the former sportsman, the court heard.
The CPS pointed out to the jury throughout the trial that Monk was not merely on a job with a colleague when he Tasered and kicked Mr Atkinson.
He was there, fearing for his life, in front of his girlfriend. A girlfriend who was not only 12 years younger than her boyfriend, but who was still on her probation period and looked up to him as a senior role model on the force.
They would regularly be paired up together on night shifts, tackling violent crime together as a couple.
In his own words, Monk said pairing up with a junior officer immediately created a mentor-mentee relationship.
"It is common," he said. "It is an unofficial way for them to learn, basically."
And the couple were happy to be crewed together. "We got on very well," Bettley-Smith said. "He was very kind, very kind, a very lovely guy."
Temperament of officer
Asked about his temperament, she said: "He always conducted himself very well. He’s so polite and so easy-going. He has a real effortless charm with everybody and puts them at ease."
Testament to how much she looked up to her boyfriend at work, this was the glowing commendation Bettley-Smith gave of Monk.
"Ben was one of those who on shift known for being the go-to man who knew everything about everything.
"The officer other officers went to for advice – a very knowledgeable and very good police officer."
And the affection was mutual. Although Monk played down any relevance that he was on duty with his girlfriend the night Mr Atkinson was killed, it became obvious during his evidence that he was concerned for her.
He said: "I don’t believe it mattered in any aspect of it, we are working colleagues.
"Of course, subconsciously, I didn’t want Ellie to get hurt, but at the same time I wouldn’t want anybody to get hurt… I’d do that with any colleague."
But this wasn’t just any other colleague, it was his girlfriend. And the "most intimidating person" Monk had ever seen in his life, so he claims, was scaring him and terrifying his lover.
At one stage, after trying to Taser Mr Atkinson for a second time, Monk told the court how the man he was trying to take down fixed his eyes on his girlfriend and repeatedly called her "bab", a West Midlands slang term of endearment.
"He started hallucinating. He started calling her ‘bab’, that’s how he referred to her over and over again.
"He said, ‘bab, don’t worry about the radio, it’s a fake radio. I’m the only real one here. Bab, bab, bab’.
"I was just watching, making sure if he went at her, what I was going to do."
Eventually, he was taken down – with a 33-second Taser discharge and two kicks to the head as he lay stunned on the ground.
Hit repeatedly with baton
Bettley-Smith hit the ex-footballer repeatedly with her baton. While his girlfriend was delivering the blows to Mr Atkinson’s legs, Monk watched on.
"It sounds like I was just stood there… that I wasn’t actually doing anything myself," he said. "You can’t quantify the absolute fear I was feeling."
He reiterated this fear in interviews. And from the witness stand, the worry he felt for his girlfriend was clear.
"It was my belief there was no way I could match Mr Atkinson in any sense, he was too big and intimidating.
"I was no match for him.
"If I got injured … then Ellie would be completely vulnerable and anything could happen to her."
Yet this entire narrative – the fact they were a couple – was unknown to the investigators reviewing whether or not there had been foul play.
Birmingham Crown Court heard there had been foul play, and as the two officers sat in their patrol car with Mr Atkinson on his way to hospital, they began to pick apart the incident.
Did she ask him why he kicked him in the head? Did she thank him for kicking him in the head and saving their lives? No, said Monk.
"We were two human beings who had just gone through the worst situation," he said. "There weren’t specific topics. It was, ‘are you ok?’. We were checking on each other."
They drove back to Telford Police Station together on the command of a sergeant who was concerned about their welfare.
Monk returned to the desk where his shift began, placed his radio on it, and talked to colleagues about the altercation.
Around half an hour later, Bettley-Smith tracked her boyfriend down inside the police headquarters to tell him Mr Atkinson was dead. He started to worry about his kicks.
"It was on my mind, of course. I never wanted to do any harm to Mr Atkinson," he admitted.
Split in relationship
Between that night and August 26 when Monk was interviewed by the IOPC, they slept in the same bed on a number of occasions.
This, the Crown said, gave them the perfect opportunity to concoct a story to justify their actions as they replaced pillow talk for scheming.
The CPS insisted the pair lied throughout the trial, to exaggerate the danger they found themselves in after realising they had done wrong.
With the investigation weighing heavy on their relationship, they split in 2018, but having found new partners remain good friends.
This was evident during the court proceedings, arriving together, leaving together and spending time together during the day when the jury was not in session.
Whether Monk killed Dalian Atkinson out of anger, humiliation or plain incompetence may never be known.
But what should have been known to the investigators probing any wrongdoing was that this was a boyfriend and girlfriend on shift together, not just two police officers.
Jurors deliberated for more than 21 hours at Birmingham Crown Court before telling the trial judge they would be unable, even if given further time, to reach a verdict on a charge alleging Miss Bettley-Smith used unlawful force.
The case against West Mercia probationary constable Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith, 31, ended in a hung jury a day after Pc Benjamin Monk was convicted of the ex-footballer’s manslaughter and told he will face an "inevitable" prison term.
Jurors deliberated for more than 21 hours at Birmingham Crown Court before telling the trial judge they would be unable, even if given further time, to reach a verdict on a charge alleging Bettley-Smith used unlawful force.
She told her trial she used necessary force to defend herself and others, but prosecutors claimed she had exaggerated the threat posed by former Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town star Atkinson to "help" Monk’s attempt to justify excessive force.
The Crown now has seven days to decide if they will file for a retrial, but if they do Miss Bettley-Smith will not be in the dock again until late 2022 due to the courts backlog.