Cricketer Ben Stokes ‘stepped in after gay men suffered homophobic abuse’
The Durham cricketer is on trial at Bristol Crown Court accused of affray.
England cricketer Ben Stokes has told a jury he stepped in after hearing two revellers shout homophobic abuse at two gay men.
The all-rounder, 27, is accused of knocking out two friends, Ryan Hale, 27, and Ryan Ali, 28, during an alleged brawl in the Clifton Triangle area of Bristol on September 25 last year.
Stokes, who plays for Durham, is standing trial at Bristol Crown Court jointly accused of affray alongside Ali.
Hale was found not guilty of the same charge by the jury on the direction of the judge on Thursday.
The cricketer denied claims he mocked two gay men, Kai Barry and William O’Connor, outside the Mbargo nightclub and flicked a cigarette butt at them.
He insisted he had instead stepped in to protect Mr Barry and Mr O’Connor after hearing Mr Hale and Ali, who had a glass beer bottle, shout homophobic abuse at them.
“Mr Hale and Mr Ali were shouting homophobic comments towards these two and in return Mr O’Connor and Mr Barry were going back to them,” Stokes told the jury.
“They weren’t obviously going to let them say what they were saying. I stepped in. [I said] ‘You shouldn’t take the piss because they are gay’.
“I was told by Mr Ali along the lines of ‘Shut the f*** up or I will bottle you’.
“As soon as I see Mr Ali swing the bottle at someone and physically hit them with it, that’s when I took the decision that I needed to get involved.
“I took a swing at Mr Ali. He had run past one of my friends, who I have known for a long time, with the bottle, attempting to hit him and then actually struck someone with the bottle.
“I was trying to stop Mr Ali from doing damage to anyone with a glass bottle.”
Stokes, wearing a blue suit, white shirt and blue tie, swore on the Bible before starting his evidence-in-chief in the witness box of court room one.
He told the jury that he was born in New Zealand and had been playing professional cricket since the age of 17.
The court heard he was in Bristol at the time of the incident, having played a one-day international against the West Indies.
Under direction from his barrister, Gordon Cole QC, Stokes held up his hands and showed the jury injuries sustained from playing his sport.
He said that after the match, he returned to the hotel and drank two or three pints of lager at a meal with wife Clare and three other players and their partners.
After the meal, Stokes and other England players took taxis into Bristol city centre and went to the Mbargo nightclub in Clifton Triangle.
The cricketer said he consumed about five or six vodka and lemonades there before leaving with teammates James Anderson, Jake Ball and Alex Hales.
Teammates Liam Plunkett and Jonny Bairstow remained at Mbargo, where Stokes and Mr Hales returned later that evening.
However, they were refused entry by door supervisor Andrew Cunningham as it was after 2am.
Stokes said the cricketers offered Mr Cunningham around £60 or £70 to get them into the club, which was turned down.
“I said to him ‘Come on mate, I’ve got shit tattoos as well, let us back in’,” he told the court.
“I am constantly getting told by teammates and by who I play with that I have got shit tattoos.”
He denied making a V-sign to Mr Cunningham, calling him a c*** or mentioning his four gold front teeth.
Stokes said he had been wearing black ripped jeans, a green T-shirt and white Buscemi high-top shoes with gold padlocks on the back.
After a short time, Mr Barry and Mr O’Connor exited the club and began talking to Stokes and Mr Hales, he said.
“My attire on that night got mentioned,” Stokes said. “It was one of the gay couple.”
Mr Cole held up the Buscemi leather shoes to the jury.
“I had never heard of the brand, I just quite liked them,” Stokes said.
Judge Peter Blair QC interjected: “Italian white leather, aren’t they?”
Stokes denied mimicking Mr Barry or Mr O’Connor, or mocking them, and insisted the only comments between them were about clothing.
“I get told by quite a lot of my teammates that I dress the worst in the team,” Stokes said.
“We both exchanged comments about what one another were wearing.”
He described one exchange as “about the state of my shoes” and, when asked if he had been homophobic, replied: “No, absolutely not.”
CCTV footage appears to show Stokes flicking his cigarette butt towards the gay men but the cricketer said he could not remember doing so.
Stokes, of Stockton Road, Castle Eden, Durham, and Ali, of Forest Road, Bristol, each deny a charge of affray.
The trial continues.