The cricketer Ben Stokes feared being violently attacked by two men carrying weapons as he intervened to protect a gay couple on the receiving end of homophobic abuse, a jury has heard.
The Durham and England player said in a statement read to Bristol crown court that he became involved in a violent street fight to stop his “gay friends” from being beaten up.
The 27-year-old maintained in the statement that he only remained involved in the brawl, during which he knocked two men unconscious, because he believed he and others were in serious peril.
The court was told Stokes had been on a night out with England teammates, including Alex Hales, in Bristol city centre last September, celebrating a victory over the West Indies in a one-day international match.
The former England vice-captain said he had consumed five vodka mixer drinks and two or three beers before he and Hales met gay couple Kai Barry and William O’Connor outside the Mbargo nightclub in the city shortly after 2am.
The prosecution earlier this week had alleged that Stokes had been mimicking the couple’s “flamboyant and exaggerated” mannerisms and walking style in a “derogatory manner”.
But Stokes denied being homophobic in the statement, which was given to police on 20 November last year. On the contrary, Stokes said he became involved in an altercation with former serviceman Ryan Hale and firefighter Ryan Ali, friends since childhood, when he witnessed them abusing Barry and O’Connor.
“As the group came to my attention, I heard some of what was being said,” he told police. “I recall that the language being used was homophobic in nature and was being directed at Kai and William by Ryan Hale and Ryan Ali.
“Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale were taller and broader than Kai and William. I noticed that they both had glass bottles in their hands. What Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale were saying was far from harmless banter, it was nasty homophobic abuse.”
Stokes said he intervened and told Ali and Hale “leave it out – you shouldn’t be taking the piss because they’re gay”. He claimed Ali replied: “Shut the fuck up and fuck off or I’ll bottle you.”
CCTV footage played to the court showed the unfolding of the fight, during which Stokes knocked out Hale and, later, Ali. Hales, who was interviewed under caution but not arrested, could also be seen kicking Ali repeatedly as he lay on the floor.
Stokes maintained he acted in self-defence throughout. “They were complete strangers,” the statement continued. “We knew that they were prepared to use weapons that could do serious injury and I feared they could have other weapons with them.”
“The force I used in defending us was reasonable and entirely justified when the circumstances are viewed objectively,” he said.
The jury heard Mr Ali had suffered a fractured left eye socket, a cracked tooth and cuts and bruises, while Mr Hale suffered bruising and a cut to his forehead.
Footage from a body camera worn by PC Stacey Alway, who arrested Mr Stokes, was shown to the jury.
She told the court the cricketer had been “squaring up” to a group of men at the side of the road as she approached them.
I didn’t know who these males were because I was unable to identify them, PC Alway said. From the moment I approached [Mr Stokes] he calmed down and he was completely compliant with me.
The court heard that when PC Alway said to Mr Stokes “a guy over there was covered in blood and I’ve been told you punched him”, he replied “because he was abusing my two friends for being gay”.
He asked Allway to loosen the handcuffs, claiming he was in pain from a cricketing injury.
Off-duty police officer Mark Spure told the jury he had immediately identified Stokes as the “main aggressor” when he happened upon the fight after leaving the Mbargo nightclub.
Asked by Nicholas Corsellis, for the prosecution, why he had chosen two particular men to try to get between, Spure told the jury: “One individual seemed to be the main aggressor, trying to get at another individual. In my statement I described him as having ginger or light brown hair with a green T-shirt on. The other man seemed to be trying to back away or move away from the situation.”
He added: “While I was trying to stop the fighting, one man struck another with a clenched fist and he fell to the floor.”
The trial continues…….