Ben Stokes has told a court in Bristol he “stepped into” an altercation in the city to help two men who were the victims of homophobic abuse.
Stokes, who is standing trial for affray alongside Ryan Ali, alleged the situation escalated when he saw Ali brandish a bottle at the two men, William O’Connor and Kai Barry, and Stokes’ England team-mate, Alex Hales, and he “took the decision” to get involved to “keep myself and others around me safe.”
Around the time his England team-mates should have been taking the field at Lord’s, Stokes took to the witness box at Bristol Crown Court. Having denied any suggestion he mimicked or abused two gay men (William O’Connor and Kai Barry) he met outside Mbargo nightclub, he instead claimed the incident started when he came to assist them after abuse he alleges came from Ali and his friend Ryan Hale. Earlier in the day, Hale had been found not guilty of affray following direction from the judge.
“I noticed there was shouting going on,” Stokes said. “There was confrontation between four guys.
“Mr Hale and Mr Ali were shouting homophobic comments towards O’Connor and Barry. I stepped in and said ‘you shouldn’t be saying these things to these two men. I said ‘you shouldn’t be taking the piss because they are gay.”
“I was told by Mr Ali something along the lines of ‘Shut the f*** up or I’ll bottle you’.”
Stokes then alleged that Ali turned the bottle he was carrying in his hand and held it by the neck. “He was waving it around,” Stokes said. “He waved it at Mr Hales.
He added: “Mr Ali was running towards Alex with the bottle above his head as if he was going to hit him. I remember trying to get between Alex and Mr Ali.
“Then he [Ali] turned around and swung at one of the gay couple with a bottle. As soon as I’d seen Mr Ali swing the bottle and physically hit them, I took the decision that I needed to get involved.
“One of them had already told me what he would do verbally if I did not shut the f*** up. He had already run at a close friend I play cricket with with a bottle.
“I was protecting myself. I took the decision to do what I did very quickly. As soon as the episode started, I knew that not just myself but other people could be a target of these two men.
“Everything I did was in defence of myself. I’d say I felt under threat from these two and I had to keep myself and others round me safe.”
Accepting that he had thrown punches at both Ali and Hale, Stokes insisted he did so because he feared the use of “weapons” against him.
“I did throw a punch at Ali,” Stokes said. “I was trying to stop him from doing damage to anyone with a glass bottle. I would say I did connect, yes.
“I remember falling to the floor and rolling around on the floor. I remember someone else coming up behind me, grabbing me. A lot of grabbing of me from behind. I was grabbed and pulled. I didn’t know who that was.
“I wasn’t aware [of what had happened] to the bottle Ali had had in his hand.
“When I got back to my feet I saw that one of the men we had the initial verbal altercation with was in front of me. It was Mr Hale. He was walking towards me. His arms were raised up. I immediately thought he was the individual who was trying to keep me down on the floor as well as Mr Ali. I didn’t want to give anyone a chance of doing anything to me.
“I thought it could easily be the two of them coming on to me. I wasn’t going to let them do that. I was protecting myself.
“I initially got involved in a verbal altercation which turned into an attack which did involve weapons. A glass bottle was used as a weapon and that turned into a fight.
“Throughout the whole time I was using any force, it was in complete belief these two gentlemen who’d I’d never met were willing to use weapons again. They’d already shown they were prepared to do that. They could have been carrying more weapons on them. They could attack me at any time if I turned my back on them. I wasn’t going to let them have any opportunity to do that. I felt under threat the whole time.”
Commenting on CCTV evidence, Stokes claimed it was “pretty clear” it showed him “escorting Mr Barry and Mr O’Connor” away from the fight, while he claimed body-camera footage from the police officer who arrested him showed him urging Hales to leave the scene and return to the team hotel.
“I was trying to tell him to leave; to get out of here,” Stokes said. “I was saying ‘It’s on me.’ I was saying ‘Go, get away from here. Don’t get involved.’
“He didn’t need to be there. I was the one stuck in the police car with handcuffs on.”
The footage also appeared to show Hales telling the police officer that he did not arrive on the scene until after the fight had finished.
Earlier the judge, Judge Blair, instructed the jury to enter a not guilty verdict against co-defendant, Hale due to lack of evidence.
The case continues.
Source : ESPN Cricinfo