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Taser death footballer had weak heart

Dalian Atkinson
Dalian Atkinson

Former Aston Villa footballer Dalian Atkinson, who has died after being Tasered by police, had been battling kidney problems and had a weak heart.

The 48-year-old's nephew claimed officers would not have used the stun gun if they had known the ex-striker's medical history.

Mr Atkinson died 90 minutes after he was hit with a Taser in the street where he grew up in the Trench area of Telford, Shropshire, at around 1.30am on Monday.

He had undergone dialysis and neighbours said he had spent an extended period in hospital.

Speaking near where his uncle was hit with the stun gun, Fabian Atkinson said: "He had some health issues that he was trying to get through and that's why his heart was weak.

"When a Taser is deployed, as soon as a Taser is deployed, they need to automatically call an ambulance. How do they know the health of the guy or the girl that they are affecting?"

The retired sportsman went into cardiac arrest in an ambulance on his way to hospital and medics were unable to save him.

His former friend and team-mate Carlton Palmer said he had struggled after his sporting career ended.

"It can be difficult for players when they finish and I know Dalian found it difficult," Palmer told Press Association Sport. "Footballers don't know anything else. Dalian would not have finished his career financially secure and he was scratching around doing stuff.

"When you finish as a footballer, all of a sudden at 34 or 35 you have no routine and no structure to your life, and that can be a major problem. It can be a very dangerous spiral and unfortunately that's what it was for Dalian."

Mr Atkinson's father Ernest, 85, reportedly said his son was agitated before he was Tasered, and neighbour Paula Quinn said that he appeared to be "almost staggering" in the street.

Ms Quinn, who lives in a first-floor flat above a barber's shop, claimed Mr Atkinson went down "like a lead balloon" after being hit by the weapon.

She said: "I heard shouting and something smashing, which is what alerted me to look out of the window. I am feeling a bit sick knowing that the poor lad has passed. I don't care what anybody has done. Nobody deserves to die as a result of something like that."

Tributes were paid by the footballing world, with Villa tweeting: "RIP Dalian Atkinson. You'll never be forgotten!"

Ex-player Ian Taylor said: "Just heard news re my old team mate Dalian. Deepest condolences to his family. Only spoke to him last week as well. Sad sad news."

Neighbours said the retired star, who drove a Porsche, was well-known in the short cul-de-sac where he grew up, making frequent visits to see his father.

Speaking at a cordon set up by police to prevent people entering the street, local residents Matthew and Tina Bothwell said they were deeply shocked.

Mr Bothwell, 43, told reporters: "Every time he would come he would have crowds around him. It's a close-knit community. I just can't bear to think what his family are going through."

Mrs Bothwell said: "He was loving, caring and got on with everybody in the street. He always got on with the kids because they absolutely loved his car."

West Mercia Police said officers were called amid concerns "for the safety of an individual" and then deployed the stun guns.

It follows the death in June of ex-soldier Spencer Beynon, who was Tasered by police in Llanelli, South Wales, after stabbing a dog and then himself.

Campaigners have raised concerns about the safety of the stun guns and called for restrictions on their use until more is known about the risks.

Police use of Tasers, which are intended as a non-lethal weapon, went up slightly last year with 10,329 uses by forces in England and Wales, a 2% rise on the previous year. However, of those, 19% (1,921) were discharges; a decrease of 3% from the previous year.

Mr Atkinson was a top-flight striker in the 1990s, and was famed for a goal for league runners-up Aston Villa against Wimbledon, which followed a mazy run from inside his own half, which was voted 1992-93 goal of the season.

He went on to score at Wembley in 1994 as Villa beat Manchester United to lift the League Cup.

Starting his career at Ipswich Town he played for Sheffield Wednesday and Spanish side Real Sociedad before moving to Villa.

He scored 23 goals in 85 appearances for the Birmingham side between 1991 and 1995, before going on to play less successfully for teams including Turkish side Fenerbahce and Manchester City. He ended his playing career in South Korea in 2001.

Watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating his death.

A spokeswoman said: "IPCC investigators are at the scene gathering the available information and are attending the post-incident procedures to supervise the recovery of initial evidence.

"The IPCC is conducting a full and thorough investigation into all of the circumstances surrounding his death including the use of force."

IPCC deputy chairwoman Rachel Cerfontyne said: "I would like to assure people that we have begun a full and thorough investigation into police contact with Dalian Atkinson prior to his death, including the level and type of force used.

"Our investigation team have been securing and preserving relevant evidence, and identifying witnesses. Investigators have met Mr Atkinson's immediate family to explain our role and we have appointed a family liaison manager to keep them updated.

"My thoughts are with Mr Atkinson's family and friends, and all those affected, at this difficult time."

After the police cordon was lifted, an Aston Villa season ticket-holder who lives locally placed a replica shirt on the front wall of the Atkinson family home as a mark of respect.

Jamie Howells, a 33-year-old logistics controller, said: "In my eyes he scored the best goal the Premier League has ever seen.

"Only last week I was showing my eight-year-old son the goal he scored at Wembley. It just seems crazy that a week later he is no longer here."