The 27-year-old England all-rounder Ben Stokes who was accused of punching Ryan Hale, 27, and Ryan Ali, 28, during an alleged brawl outside a nightclub in Bristol on 25 September last year has been found not guilty of affray after a fight near a Bristol nightclub.
The England cricketer Ben Stokes tilted his head back and shut his eyes in a restrained display of relief after being found not guilty of affray following a late-night street brawl in Bristol last September.
Immediately after the verdict was read out, Stokes leaned across the dock to shake hands with his co-defendant, Ryan Ali, who was found not guilty of the same charge. A jury of six men and six women listened to about 30 hours of testimony and submissions during six days of evidence, returning a unanimous verdict after just two-and-a-half hours of deliberations.
Stokes squeezed the waist of his wife, Clare Ratcliffe, who wiped away tears, as the pair left courtroom 1 at Bristol crown court for the final time, after what the sportsman described as an 11-month ordeal. The atmosphere was one of measured celebration as Ali also shook hands with Ratcliffe and Stokes’ agent, Neil Fairbrother, a former cricketer himself.
What is affray?
Under the Public Order Act 1986, ‘a person is guilty of affray if he uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another and his conduct is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety’.
So, though it may seem odd, the offence is not designed simply to protect those involved in the violent incident itself: it is also designed to protect other people who are present.
That could include, for example, passers by in a street, those drinking in a pub, or fans at a football game when violence is threatened or actually occurs.
However, the ‘person of reasonable firmness’ need not actually be present at the scene.
This person is sometimes known as the ‘hypothetical bystander’ and it is he or she rather than the victim, who must fear for his or her personal safety.
There must be a ‘victim’ present against whom the violence is to be directed, and some conduct, beyond the use of words, which is threatening and directed towards a person or people.
The lawyer Paul Lunt read a statement on behalf of Stokes on the street outside the court as the 27-year-old stood in the background, stony faced, refusing to answer questions posed to him by TV reporters and offering no apology for the incident.
“The jury’s decision that Ben is not guilty fairly reflects the truth of what happened in Bristol that night,” Lunt said, “This has been a very difficult period for Ben. He’s had to maintain his silence at times when many on social media and certain parts of the press predetermined his guilt long before the trial began. Now that the trial is over, Ben is keen to get back to cricket being his sole focus.”
During the six-day trial, Bristol Crown Court heard the incident described as “a sustained episode of significant violence” from Mr Stokes – of Castle Eden in Durham – who had “lost control”.
The prosecution said he was “drunk and enraged” after being refused entry back into Mbargo nightclub at 02:00 BST on 25 September.
But Mr Stokes told the jury he had “stepped in” to defend two gay men who were being verbally abused, and then had to defend himself from Mr Ali – of Forest Road in Bristol – and Ryan Hale, 27, who were threatening violence.
Gay couple say Ben Stokes did not deserve to face trial.
Kai Barry and William O’Connor, the couple Ben Stokes said he had been defending in a fight outside a Bristol nightclub, may have been at the heart of the cricketer’s trial, but they were visibly absent from the witness box and no statements were read from them.
Jurors were not told why the men were not called, with the judge, Peter Blair QC, saying only that it would be wrong for them to speculate about any witnesses the prosecution or defence did not call.
The main thrust of Stokes’ defence was that he was protecting the couple from homophobic abuse. What exactly that abuse was, he could not remember.
A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “The evidence of Mr O’Connor and Mr Barry was disclosed to the defence but it was not deemed necessary to call them as witnesses in the case.”
Speaking to ITV after the trial, Kai Barry and William O’Connor – the couple Mr Stokes defended – said they were thankful for what he had done.
Mr Barry said: “I thought he was just a normal lad sticking up for someone that was obviously weaker than he was. When I realised who he was I thought, fair play, because obviously he put his career at risk for someone that he never knew.
Mr Ali, who works for the emergency services, suffered a fractured eye socket in the brawl while Mr Hale, a former soldier, was left with concussion.