'Gay men thanked me for protecting them', Ben Stokes affray trial told

England cricketer Ben Stokes arrives at Bristol Crown Court, where he is on trial accused of affray. Pic: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.
England cricketer Ben Stokes arrives at Bristol Crown Court, where he is on trial accused of affray. Pic: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

Two gay men thanked England cricketer Ben Stokes for protecting them from two homophobic revellers, the England cricketer told police.

The 27-year-old Durham all-rounder is accused of affray in the Clifton Triangle area of Bristol during the early hours of September 25 last year.

Cricketer Ben Stokes claimed he was acting in self-defence of himself, England teammate Alex Hales and the two gay men. Pic: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

Cricketer Ben Stokes claimed he was acting in self-defence of himself, England teammate Alex Hales and the two gay men. Pic: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

Bristol Crown Court heard Stokes was the "main aggressor" in a fight that broke out between him and two other men - Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale - near a nightclub in the city.

Images released today show the injuries sustained by Ali and Hale after allegedly being attacked by Stokes, hours after England beat the West Indies in a one-day international in the city.

A jury has been told Stokes mocked two gay men, Kai Barry and William O'Connor, outside the Mbargo nightclub and flicked a cigarette butt at them.

But in a statement provided to police, Stokes denied both actions and insisted he only stepped in after hearing Ali and Hale being homophobic towards Mr Barry and Mr O'Connor.

Ryan Hale, left, and Ryan Ali are jointly accused of affray, along with England cricketer Ben Stokes. Pic: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

Ryan Hale, left, and Ryan Ali are jointly accused of affray, along with England cricketer Ben Stokes. Pic: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

Stokes said he acted in defence of himself, England teammate Alex Hales and the two gay men at all times, adding that they thanked him for protecting them.

He told officers: "Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale were taller and broader than Kai and William. I noticed that they both had glass bottles in their hands.

"Despite the difference in their respective sizes and the fact Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale seemed to be in the mood for conflict, the pair on the receiving end of the abuse were verbally combative and sticking up for themselves.

"They weren't shying away from it, but they were obviously offended by the abuse being levelled towards them.

"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 **** because they're gay".

He claimed Ali replied: "Shut the **** up and **** off or I'll bottle you."

Ali allegedly used the bottle to threaten Mr Hales, before making contact with Mr Barry's arm.

"I decided at this point matters had become too serious to ignore and that I had to intervene to stop Ryan Ali," Stokes told police.

The court has heard Stokes knocked Hale unconscious before doing the same to Ali a short time later.

Off-duty police community support officer Mark Spure told Bristol Crown Court that Stokes had been the "main aggressor" in the group.

Mr Spure described seeing Stokes punch Ali, who was trying to get away, with a "clenched fist" in the road.

He identified Stokes to attending police officers, who arrested him. Mr Hales told the officers that he had not witnessed any of the alleged fight.

Jurors have previously heard claims that Mr Hales, who was never arrested in relation to the incident, stamped and kicked Ali as he lay on the floor.

Stokes told police: "I can hear on the video Alex shouting. I assume that he (like me) feared for our safety having witnessed the events moments earlier.

"Neither of us had met the two guys who attacked us with bottles prior to this point - although I had of course seen them briefly.

"They were complete strangers. We knew that they were prepared to use weapons that could do serious injury, and I feared they could have other weapons with them.

"Both Kai and William thanked me for preventing them from being beaten up."

Ali was taken to Bristol Royal Infirmary by ambulance, with doctors noting that he had suffered a fracture to the left side of his face.

His left eye was swollen and he had a laceration above his eyebrow, a cracked lower left molar and bruising to his head.

Hale cycled to hospital, where he was found to have bruising and a 1.5in superficial laceration to his forehead consistent with blunt trauma.

Stokes told officers: "The force I used in defending us was reasonable and entirely justified when the circumstances are viewed objectively.

"Amongst other things, Ryan Ali attacked Alex and Kai with a weapon. When asked simply to stop using the homophobic abuse he was giving to Kai and William.

"This was an extreme act of aggression in the circumstances and informed my assessment of the situation.

"I did not known Ryan Hale or Ryan Ali, and I was forced to make a decision as to how far they would be prepared to go and what they might do if they got the upper hand.

"They had shown a willingness to use weapons in attacking people and were willing to gang up such that at points, the pair of them were attacking me on my own.

"I knew they were prepared to use weapons and so had a reasonable belief they might be carrying more weapons - perhaps of a more serious type."

Stokes, of Stockton Road, Castle Eden, Durham; Ali, of Forest Road, Bristol; and Hale, of Burghill Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, each deny a joint charge of affray.

The trial continues.