Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith was awarded a commendation while still on probation – and it looked like her career as a police officer was going places.
Then, when she was just 26, she followed her boyfriend’s lead while on patrol, which resulted in her following him into the dock of Birmingham Crown Court.
She was born on February 10, 1990, and grew up in Staffordshire with her mother and father and two brothers. Surrounded by male siblings toughened her resolve, and coupled with her empathy she was a born police officer.
She told the court as much, saying: "I’ve always enjoyed helping other people. I recognise I come from a privileged background because of my family."
Miss Bettley-Smith – known as Ellie – finished school in 2008 with the A-level grades she needed to study social work at the University of Hull. It was there that she got her first hands-on experience of helping people, completing two six-month placements in her second and third years.
This volunteering is something she held dear, and something that she continued doing during the Covid pandemic. There is not a blemish on her police record, and she has no prior convictions.
Her life as a police officer started on February 9, 2015, after she was enrolled as a trainee Pc at West Mercia Police. "I did enjoy it," she said. "I was very proud, it’s a fantastic job. I loved it."
Prior to the charge of assault for her use of a baton on Mr Atkinson, Miss Bettley-Smith did not have a blemish on her police record
Credit: Jacob King/PA Wire
Her first taste of life on the force was a 16-week training course which involved baton deployment and how to deliver a blow, something that would later see her charged with assault and facing a gruelling six-week trial as a defendant.
During this period, she was paired with an experienced officer for 10 weeks in order to learn the ropes. Her partner was Pc Dan Fellows.
"It was every day with him," Miss Bettley-Smith said, adding: "He was very knowledgeable. I loved it and it taught me a lot".
Little did she know, Pc Fellows would be one of the first officers to arrive at the scene where the baton blows she delivered to a floored Dalian Atkinson would land her in court on an assault charge.
With her tutorship complete in September 2015, 11 months before she was called out to Mr Atkinson, she was in effect a fully fledged police constable.
On the day shift she was free to be a bobby on the beat by herself. But policy dictated that on the night shift, which starts at 10pm and finishes at 7am and encompasses the dark hours where violent crime is most prevalent, junior officers are crewed together in pairs.
Awarded commendation for investigation into kidnap
Having been on the job less than a year, Pc Bettley-Smith was awarded a commendation for her investigation into a kidnap.
A baby boy had been snatched, and the rookie officer received a tip-off. Working swiftly on this information, she was able to reunite the baby with his family.
"I was very proud and very honoured to receive it," she said.
By this stage, she was already in a relationship with Benjamin Monk – a divorcee who had been on the force for more than a decade before she joined.
The lovers, who had now been together for a number of months, were crewed together on August 15, 2016. Her compassion came to the fore again on that shift.
Their first call was to the M54 near Telford. A woman was on a bridge threatening to jump into motorway traffic.
Miss Bettley-Smith managed to intervene and the woman was taken to hospital for treatment. She saved the woman’s life with her intervention. But only a few hours later, a life was lost.
Miss Bettley-Smith told her partner and lover that there was a level one emergency job at Meadow Close in Trench, Telford.
It was here she watched her boyfriend Taser Dalian Atkinson for 33 seconds, and it was here that she hit the former Aston Villa footballer three times with her baton.
Charged with assault due to baton strike
Mr Atkinson died, and Miss Bettley-Smith’s life was turned upside down as she was charged with assault due to the baton strikes.
She was reinstated as a non-frontline officer with restricted duties in 2018 following the incident with Atkinson. But this was short-lived as she was suspended once again in 2019 upon being charged with assault.
She attended court every day, wearing what would become somewhat of a trademark pink face mask.
When the court was not in session, she was regularly seen sitting on the concourse of the top floor of the court building sipping a coffee and chatting with acquaintances.
It was at Birmingham Crown Court she told the jury she feared for her life as the imposing former professional footballer puffed out his chest and called himself the Messiah.
West Mercia Police constable Mary Ellen Bettley-Smith arrives at Birmingham Crown Court in her trademark pink face mask
Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Here she was, a 5ft 5.5in (she was at pains to stress the extra half an inch) junior officer weighing 68kg, faced with the 5ft 11in Mr Atkinson.
Sitting in the dock listening to the incident being picked apart, she eventually got her chance to tell her side of the story four weeks in.
Wiping tears from her face, she told how her life flashed before her eyes as she radioed for back-up, realising colleagues were six minutes away.
"It was at this point when I decided I needed to strike Mr Atkinson with my baton. Unless it was absolutely necessary, I would never have used my baton that night.
"I struck him to prevent him from getting up and protect myself and Ben."
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 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.
Whether or not her career is allowed to continue its rise after the jury failed to reach a verdict remains to be seen as she remains suspended subject to a gross misconduct investigation.
But the early hours of Aug 15, 2016 will shape her career – policing or otherwise – for the rest of her life.