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And people question the need for a Black Lives Matter movement in this country.

 

People in the Labour Party openly mocking it, in fact.

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RORY SMITH

The tragic silence of Atkinson’s final years

 

Life after football failed to work out for the former Villa forward, who died after being Tasered by police, writes Rory Smith

 

Rory Smith

August 20 2016, 12:01am, The Times

 

 

What appealed to Dalian Atkinson was the peace and quiet. New Woodhouses is not a place, not as such, just a handful of cottages and farms beaded along a road to nowhere. Whitchurch, the nearest town, is a couple of miles down the road, not far from the border where the sweeping green fields of north Shropshire melt into chocolate-box Cheshire.

 

The solitude was just what Atkinson was looking for. He was no recluse: his team-mates from his days at Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and across the world remember him as an easy-going, sociable sort, a charismatic presence in the dressing room, always the first to sign up for a night out. Even long after his playing career had ended, though, he found the attendant attention draining.

 

Those who knew him seem to have known little or nothing of what he was going through

He needed, he told his landlord, to be somewhere he would not have to worry about being recognised, where he would not be badgered by fans, where he could live his life. The cottage right at the end of the road in New Woodhouses was perfect. On one side was farmland; on the other, the Tudor façade of Longwood Hall, a vast, unoccupied million-pound manor house. He agreed to take it. He paid for the first six months up front, in cash.

 

His life in New Woodhouses was simple. There were not many visitors, apart from his nephew, Fabian, and a handful of friends. He would occasionally venture out a couple of miles down the road to The Combermere Arms, a cream-fronted pub in the nearby village of Burleydam. He spent much of his time in the cottage, eyes glued to his phone, running Players Come First, the consultancy he had set up a couple of years previously. Those who knew him then agree that he was, or at least he seemed, “very happy”.

 

Just a few days after news of Atkinson’s death emerged, the shock is still raw. For much of the week, tributes have poured in. On Tuesday night, during the 1-1 draw against Huddersfield Town, Villa Park rose en masse in the tenth minute to commemorate their fallen favourite. Former team-mates and friends have offered their memories, their eulogies, for a player of almost effortless talent.

 

 

Andy Townsend, a member of the same Villa side, recalls how “over 50 or 60 yards, there was nobody who could live with Dalian” for sheer speed. “Not even Tony Daley, who a lot of people thought was the quickest around,” he says. In terms of natural ability, Atkinson was, he says, as good as any of the wonderful generation of English strikers he counted as peers: Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler, Teddy Sheringham.

 

The pain, though, comes not just from the loss of Atkinson at such a young age — he was 48 — but the unexpected manner of it. In the days that followed, it has been possible to piece together what, exactly, happened.

 

He had arrived at the house that he had bought for his parents in Meadow Close, Telford, in the early hours of Monday morning. According to his father, Ernest, and his brother, Kenroy, he claimed that he had already killed his siblings and attempted to throttle his father. Kenroy told The Sun that his brother was “in a manic state and depressed, out of his mind and ranting, not in his right mind.” Ernest said he “did not know if he was drunk, or on drugs”.

 

A neighbour called the police, concerned “for the safety of an individual”. When officers arrived, they struck Atkinson with a Taser, reportedly on as many as three occasions. An independent investigation is now under way into the officers in question. Eyewitnesses saw him lying still on the floor. An ambulance was summoned, but Atkinson — suffering from a weak heart — died before he arrived at hospital.

 

 

 

His family, his brother said, are “heartbroken”. They are not alone. The house on Meadow Close is empty now, the smashed window in the front door boarded up. A lone Villa shirt hangs on the garden gate; a dozen bouquets of flowers lie on the ground, left by those who remember him, those who cherished him.

 

What is more difficult is to explain precisely why it happened. Atkinson, his friends and associates say, was not the sort to lose his temper; they cannot quite square that with the “manic” figure who arrived at his father’s house. “I had known him since school, and I’d never seen him be physically aggressive,” says Jeff Britnell, a friend and former business associate.

 

There is no evidence, not even a sotto voce mention, of drug addiction; he was not, it seems, even an especially big drinker. He had worked hard to keep himself in shape after his career ended. He worked out, ate so well that he was almost “manic” in making sure his diet was good.

 

That is not the only question that lingers. Atkinson has been painted, in the last few days, as “tormented”, beset by financial difficulties, in the grip of a “meltdown” and full of “despair”, as though what happened in Meadow Close was, in some way, a natural conclusion. Reality, though, rarely follows such easily constructed narratives. “Dalian was a survivor,” says Dave Sharpe, who worked with him for several years. “He always gave the impression that he would always be OK, just move on to the next thing.”

 

 

His life after football had, without doubt, not been straightforward. Atkinson had retired young. He was 33 when he called time on his career, his energy and enthusiasm sapped not just by injury problems but by what friends refer to obliquely as the “disappointments” he suffered at the hands of the game.

 

What he did immediately afterwards remains a little vague. Britnell believes that he had been dabbling in events management and PR; a number of his former team-mates had heard suggestions that he had been working as a DJ. He played a little for Telford United, his home-town team; later, he would coach unemployed young people in Birmingham, alongside John Fashanu and Terry Phelan, at an academy established by the education charity, Templegate.

 

By 2009, though, he had found a project. “We had grown up together but drifted apart,” says Britnell. “He had played football, I’d gone into construction. We met up again, after he retired, at Aston Villa. He said he was interested in setting up a consultancy for young players. He wanted to pass on his experiences, to make sure they did not go through the same things he did.”

 

Britnell agreed to be a silent partner. He recruited Sharpe, a friend with connections in football, to act as the company’s licensed agent, though Atkinson’s focus was always on “helping make sure players are not taken for a ride, to act as a go-between for the agent, the player and the clubs”.

 

Slowly, Players Come First built up a client base, largely drawn from the lower leagues. The business, Britnell insists, was never designed to make anyone rich — “to some extent, it was something for Dalian to do” — but it was, perhaps, harder going than anyone expected. “It was difficult,” Sharpe says. “We had some players, but it is a cut-throat business. You need a big one to get going, and we did not have one. It was very hard to make money.”

 

By 2014, it was clear to Sharpe and to Atkinson that it “was not working”. A change in Fifa’s regulations governing agents meant the scene was flooded with unlicensed representatives. Atkinson lost heart.

 

“He came to me and said he was not enjoying it any more,” says Britnell. “We agreed if it was not doing anything for him then we should walk away.” He insists that there was no ill feeling. Sharpe accepts that there would, of course, have been a “financial hit” to Atkinson, but believes that he would have been able to cope with it.

 

What happened in New Woodhouses, however, suggests that he could not. Atkinson had always paid his rent up front; at some point during his time there, he started paying in cash, too. He always had a taste for nice cars, but there is a suggestion — unverified — that his Mercedes was repossessed, a sign that the financial strain was becoming too much. That is borne out by the accounts filed with Companies House by Players Come First, the most recent of which shows assets of less than £3,000 and liabilities of £80,445.

 

Finally, Atkinson got in contact with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the body that looks after players during and after their careers. He applied to their benevolent fund for help covering rent. On his behalf, they struck a deal with his landlord that he would pay three months’ rent but be allowed to stay in New Woodhouses for six.

 

By that time, he was also struggling with illness. A year ago, Atkinson was diagnosed with kidney problems. Three times a week, he had to travel to hospital to undergo dialysis as doctors tried to trace the source of his complaint. The PFA helped to organise his transport, and offered support when he was kept under observation for a couple of months after contracting pneumonia.

 

 

He was, his family say, growing increasingly distressed not just by his illness but because nobody could quite tell him what was wrong and how it could be treated. He contacted Andy Cole, the former Manchester United forward, who had suffered a similar problem and asked to be put in touch with the specialist who had treated him. He was due to meet him in Manchester on Monday.

 

The past year had, without doubt, been a difficult one for Atkinson and his family. He had been forced to wind up his business, he had seen his financial security disappear and he was losing hope of conquering his illness. The dialysis left a man who prided himself on his fitness feeling exhausted, hopeless.

 

Beyond his family, though, he kept his problems to himself. Those who knew him, those who were devastated by his death, seem to have known little or nothing of what he was going through. “He had plenty of friends,” says Britnell. Sharpe agrees that plenty of people would have been happy to help him “if he had reached out”.

 

Whether his problems are enough to explain what happened on Monday — what took him to his father’s house, what led to his state of mind, what made him behave so “out of character” — is not clear, may never been known.

 

That he kept his struggles so quiet, though, certainly served to heighten the shock of his death. Atkinson, his friends say, was a “big personality”. They remember his smile, how he could command a room, his shy magnetism. In the end, though, it is the silence that they will not forget.

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It seems hard to explain what happened with him - not the classic tale of a footballer turning to drink and drugs after his career ends. Seems like he was in a crazed state (coming from his own direct relatives' words) on that last night but nobody can give any idea as to why.

 

What I don't get is even if he was going crazy, why can't two policemen restrain him physically between them without resorting to the taser? And surely after one go with the taser at that point they could get hold of him?

 

Surely our police need to be trained in physically restraining offenders and the taser being a last resort?

 

There are examples where I understand it. If you take the example of the cannibal lad in Wales - had I been a policeman and walked into him eating that poor girls face I'd have tasered the f*ck out of him. Would anyone who walked into that have risked being eaten?

 

But it should be for extreme cases like that. Atkinson seemed to be having some sort of breakdown but he wasn't murdering people. It certainly sounds like overkill and possibly cowardice on behalf of the police. Obviously the full facts are yet to emerge, but there has been no reports of him having a weapon of any sort.

Edited by Leo No.8

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There are examples where I understand it. If you take the example of the cannibal lad in Wales - had I been a policeman and walked into him eating that poor girls face I'd have tasered the f*ck out of him. Would anyone who walked into that have risked being eaten?

.

Thank f*** I missed that story.

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It seems hard to explain what happened with him - not the classic tale of a footballer turning to drink and drugs after his career ends. Seems like he was in a crazed state (coming from his own direct relatives' words) on that last night but nobody can give any idea as to why.

 

What I don't get is even if he was going crazy, why can't two policemen restrain him physically between them without resorting to the taser? And surely after one go with the taser at that point they could get hold of him?

 

Surely our police need to be trained in physically restraining offenders and the taser being a last resort?

 

 

Maybe...just maybe...quite a lot of "our police" are violent racist c*nts? Just putting that out there.

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Maybe...just maybe...quite a lot of "our police" are violent racist c*nts? Just putting that out there.

 

 

That'd be ridiculous though, eh? They're out there every day protecting us, the brave souls.

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Maybe...just maybe...quite a lot of "our police" are violent racist c*nts? Just putting that out there.

Generalising there aren't you? I'm sure the the majority of the police are good at their jobs and do us all a great service. And I'm sure there are some horrible c*nts just like in every walk of life. Unfortunately in the police, that minority have a lot of power to abuse, so are very dangerous. We'll have to see what comes out of the inquiry into this but it doesn't look good I'd agree.

Edited by Leo No.8

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From the BBC

 

A police officer has been charged with the murder of retired footballer Dalian Atkinson who died after being tasered.

The ex-Aston Villa striker, 48, was restrained by police officers at his father's house in Telford, Shropshire, on 15 August 2016.

A second police officer, also from the West Mercia Police force, has been charged with assault causing actual bodily harm.

Both were bailed after appearing at Birmingham Crown Court.

The Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) has not named the officers because it believes their defence will apply for them to remain anonymous.

Judge Simon Drew allowed the officers' identities to remain undisclosed over concerns there may be a threat to their lives, although this will be reviewed at a hearing next week.

An alternative charge of an unlawful act manslaughter has also been put forward by the CPS for the officer charged with murder, known as "Officer A".

The second officer, "Officer B", indicated she would plead not guilty and was bailed after an earlier appearance at Birmingham Magistrates' Court.

Officer A did not indicate a plea but was also granted bail at a later hearing at the city's crown court.

_91049024_atkinsonportraitno5.jpgImage copyrightITFCImage captionDalian Atkinson started his career in Ipswich in the 1980s

The CPS made the decision to press charges following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

Mr Atkinson's family has been informed, a spokesperson said, and issued a statement welcoming the decision but they "regret that already more than three years have passed since Dalian died".

Police officers attended Meadow Close in Trench, Telford, where Mr Atkinson was detained outside an address at about 01:30 BST.

He was taken by ambulance to the Princess Royal Hospital where he later died.

_98171732_line976.jpg Analysis

By Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent

It's rare for a police officer to be charged with murder following the death of someone they were in contact with on duty.

The last time this happened in the UK was five years ago, when Anthony Long, a retired Metropolitan Police firearms officer, was charged with the murder of robbery suspect Azelle Rodney.

He was shot dead in north-west London in 2005, but 10 years later Mr Long was acquitted.

The exact circumstances of Dalian Atkinson's death haven't been revealed and it is not known whether the Taser contributed to, or caused, his death.

However this is believed to be the first time an officer has been charged with murder after a person has been tasered by police.

_98171732_line976.jpg

Relatives said the former footballer was suffering from a number of health issues and had a weak heart when the Taser was deployed.

Mr Atkinson started his career at Ipswich Town before moving to Sheffield Wednesday, Real Sociedad, Aston Villa and Fenerbahçe in Turkey.

He is best remembered for scoring the Match of the Day goal of the season in 1992-93 when he dribbled the ball from inside his own half before chipping the Wimbledon keeper from the edge of the penalty area.

In a statement, West Mercia Police said: "Our thoughts continue to remain with the family and friends of Dalian Atkinson at this difficult time."

Chief Constable Anthony Bangham said it would not be appropriate to comment on the circumstances around Mr Atkinson's death, but added he would ensure the officers in question "have the appropriate support throughout the forthcoming criminal justice process".

The IOPC said it appreciates the "patience" shown during their investigation, which concluded in October 2018.

Actions of a third police officer, who was also investigated over Mr Atkinson's death, were not referred to the CPS, the watchdog added.

Both defendants are next expected to appear in court on 9 December. However, a hearing on Wednesday will decide whether they can be named following an application by the media.

_98171732_line976.jpg

Dalian Atkinson's career

_92501117_gettyimages-1922408.jpgImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
  • Dalian Atkinson started his footballing career as an apprentice with Ipswich
  • He signed for Sheffield Wednesday for £450,000 in 1989
  • His sole international appearance was with the England B team in 1990, against Ireland
  • In August 1990 Atkinson moved to Spain, joining Real Sociedad for £1.7m
  • Ron Atkinson signed him for a second time in July 1991 - bringing him back to England to play for Aston Villa
  • His strike against Wimbledon was named the goal of the 1992-93 season
  • Atkinson joined Turkish side Fenerbahçe in 1995, but failed to settle
  • He later played for Manchester City as well as clubs in Saudi Arabia and South Korea

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Poor old bugger. He should not have lost his life because of this.

He wasn't old, he was aged 48 when he died.

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