LONDON (Reuters) – Tributes poured in for former English premier league striker Dalian Atkinson on Monday after he died when police fired a high-voltage Taser stun-gun at him during an incident in his home town.
West Mercia police said officers had been called to “a report for the concern for the safety of an individual” in Telford, central England, in the early hours of Monday and a Taser gun had been deployed.
Atkinson, 48, whose former clubs included Aston Villa and Spain’s Real Sociedad, was given medical treatment at the scene but later died.
“Aston Villa is saddened to hear of the death of our former striker Dalian Atkinson,” the club said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this terrible time.”
The incident has now been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the police watchdog, which said its officers had launched an investigation.
A witness told the local paper The Shropshire Star that Atkinson appeared to be staggering in the street towards officers who fired the stun gun at him.
Civil rights groups have spoken of their concern about the increasing use of stun guns and their potential risk. According to figures from the Home Office (interior ministry), police discharged Tasers 1,921 times last year.
Atkinson began his soccer career at Ipswich Town and scored a goal in Aston Villa’s 3-1 win over Manchester United in the 1994 League Cup final.
His strike against Wimbledon in 1992, in which he ran from his own half, beating numerous challenges before chipping the ball over the goalkeeper’s head, was named Goal of the Season by BBC’s “Match of the Day” programme.
“Terrible news about Dalian Atkinson. Losing his life after being tasered by police. Thoughts are with this fine footballer’s family,” Gary Lineker, the show’s current presenter, wrote on Twitter.
Atkinson’s former team mates and clubs added their messages of shock and sympathy.
“Terribly sad news about our former striker. Our thoughts are with Dalian’s family and friends at this tragic time,” Ipswich said on Twitter.
Defender Paul McGrath, who played with Atkinson in the League Cup final, said on twitter: Don’t feel to gud at the moment , Dalian Atkinson was a huge part of the Villa family I played with lovely kid and friend R.I.P pal.”
Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison