Durham and England cricketer Ben Stokes cleared of affray after fight in Bristol
Cricketer Ben Stokes has been found not guilty of affray following a trial by jury.
The 27-year-old all-rounder punched Ryan Hale, 27, to the ground and then knocked out Ryan Ali, 28, during the fracas in the early hours of September 25 last year in Bristol city centre.
Stokes said he was acting in self-defence, or in the defence of others, when he punched the two best friends hours after England played the West Indies in a one-day international in the city.
The jury at Bristol Crown Court took under three hours to acquit Stokes and co-accused Ali of affray following a seven-day trial.
At the start of the trial the Crown tried to amend the indictment and charge Stokes with two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm but this was rejected by the judge.
And half way through the trial Stokes's legal team attempted to have the case against him dropped but this was also refused by the judge.
Stokes missed the second Test against India at Lords and was not included in the squad for the third Test, beginning on Saturday at Trent Bridge, because of the on-going court proceedings.
The court heard how the night began with Stokes and other England players, including James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Plunkett, Jake Ball and Alex Hales, taking taxis into Bristol city centre.
Stokes had had "at least 10 drinks" in the hours before the incident, which included a bottle of beer, two or three pints of lager, five or six vodka and lemonades and some Jagerbombs.
He was accused of being "actually really very drunk".
Meanwhile Ali had drunk six or seven Jack Daniels and Cokes during his night out with Mr Hale.
Much of the incident and the build-up was captured on CCTV cameras located around the Clifton Triangle area - a popular nightspot in Bristol.
Mbargo doorman Andrew Cunningham, 37, alleged he was offered £300 by Stokes to let him and Mr Hales back into the nightclub.
Mr Cunningham accused Stokes of getting "verbally abusive" saying he had "**** tattoos" and that his gold teeth made him look like a "****".
He said Stokes was mimicking the mannerisms and voices of two gay men, William O'Connor and Kai Barry, outside the club but the cricketer insisted they were exchanging "banter" about his expensive white leather shoes.
Stokes said he could not remember flicking his cigarette butt towards the gay men or directing a V-sign at Mr Cunningham.
The two cricketers left Mbargo and were looking for a casino when the violence erupted shortly after 2.30am in Queen's Road.
Both Stokes and Ali claim they were acting in self-defence and blamed each other for being the aggressor.
Stokes maintained he heard best friends Ali and Mr Hale direct homophobic abuse at Mr O'Connor and Mr Barry - but was unable to say what those words were.
And when he intervened, telling the pair: "You shouldn't be taking the piss because they are gay," Stokes said Ali replied: "Shut the **** up or I'll bottle you."
He described his co-accused as "aggressive and violent" towards himself, Mr Hales, Mr Barry and Mr O'Connor and denied he had "overexaggerated the exchange" in order to "justify his own violent behaviour".
Ali told jurors the England cricketer "was very angry and looking for someone to pick on" and said that deciding to use a bottle as a weapon would be a "difficult decision for me to take".
"I would have to perceive a significant threat to do that. I can hear myself saying 'Move away'," he said.
CCTV footage shows Ali waving a bottle towards Mr Hales before delivering a glancing blow to the shoulder of Mr Barry.
"As soon as I see Mr Ali swing the bottle and physically hit them that's when I took the decision to get involved," Stokes said.
"I was trying to stop Mr Ali doing damage to anybody with a glass bottle."
Stokes and Ali tussled and fell to the floor and when the sportsman got back to his feet Mr Hale was stood in front of him.
"I felt under threat by these two and felt I had to do whatever it was to keep myself and others around me safe," Stokes said.
Mr Hales tries to grab Stokes, repeatedly begging his teammate to stop, telling him "Stokes, Stokes, that's enough".
When asked if he had become "enraged" at any point during the incident, Stokes replied that it was a "difficult question to answer".
The 6ft 2in cricketer added: "I didn't know they could be carrying more weapons on them.
"They could decide to attack me at any time if I was to turn my back on either of these two. At all times I felt under threat from these two."
Mr Hales, who was interviewed under caution but never arrested in relation to the incident, was seen on the CCTV stamping and kicking Ali in the head as he lay on the floor.
Witnesses described seeing a group of men acting like "football hooligans" and dialled 999.
Stokes was arrested and asked why he punched Ali. He told police: "Because he was abusing my two friends for being gay."
Ali, an emergency services worker, suffered a fractured eye socket while Mr Hale, a former soldier, was left with concussion.
Stokes, of Stockton Road, Castle Eden, Durham, and Ali, of Forest Road, Bristol, each denied a charge of affray. Mr Hale was found not guilty last week of affray by the jury on direction of the judge.
Following the verdict, the England and Wales Cricket Board issued a statement, which said: "Now that the legal proceedings have concluded, the disciplinary process for Ben Stokes and Alex Hales can be scheduled by the Cricket Discipline Commission.
“Ben Stokes will now join the England squad for the 3rd Specsavers Test against India, which starts at Trent Bridge on Saturday.
“Considerable detail has been heard in this week-long court case and, in due course, there will be a range of matters for the Board to fully consider.”