Rugby legend, 64, attacked policemen

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RUGBY League legend John Atkinson, a former crime squad detective, told a court last Thursday of his shame and remorse as he pleaded guilty to drink-driving and attacking two police officers.

Atkinson, who clocked up more than 500 games on the left-wing for Leeds and made 26 appearances for Great Britain with a further 12 caps for England, left Harrogate Magistrates’ Court with a 16-month driving ban and a bill for £1,040.

He pleaded guilty to driving his Ford Fusion while more than one and a half times the limit and to assaulting PC Alan Williams and PC Bryan Wilson. The court imposed a fine of £840 with costs of £85, a £15 victim surcharge and £50 compensation to each of the officers.

Chairman Susan Diamond told 64-year-old Atkinson his shame and remorse had been taken into account and he replied: ‘‘I can assure you I have never been so ashamed in my life.’’

Prosecutor Kathryn Reeve said a police patrol had spotted Atkinson, of Westminster Drive, Burn Bridge, Harrogate pulling his car on to the A658 Harrogate bypass from a minor road causing traffic to brake and swerve.

Police set off in pursuit with Atkinson ignoring their patrol car’s blue lights and turning on to the A61 Leeds Road and then Burn Bridge Road before pulling over.

Miss Reeve said Atkinson, who blew 56 micrograms of alcohol compared with the limit of 35, broke free while being handcuffed and swung his clenched first at PC Williams. The blow missed its target but caught PC Wilson on his left cheek.

And when Atkinson’s struggles continued his handcuffs caused cuts to PC Williams’s hands before he was taken to the ground and subdued by use of PAVA spray.

In mitigation Geoffrey Rogers said Atkinson had followed a glittering rugby league career with one as a detective sergeant with the regional crime squad in West Yorkshire. For the last decade he had worked as a security manager for an NHS mental health trust, a job he was likely to lose when he was banned from driving.

Mr Rogers said Atkinson, who had toured Australia four times, including the last time Britain won an Ashes series in 1970, had to give up police work because of clinical depression. His sense of shame was exacerbated because he had assaulted police officers. ‘‘He can’t believe how he reacted. To say it is out of character is putting it mildly.’’

Personal problems had added to Atkinson’s plight. His son-in-law had died three weeks earlier from cancer at the age of 44; his eldest daughter’s partner had been seriously injured in a road accident; and his father-in-law had died.

Under huge stress he had met friends in a pub where he had five halves of lager and believed he was fit to drive. But he had called in another pub in Kirkby Overblow and had a couple of drinks there. ‘‘That is where he has gone wrong,’’ said Mr Rogers.