Ben Stokes tells jury he had at least nine drinks on night of brawl

The England cricketer Ben Stokes has told a jury he had drunk at least seven vodka and mixer drinks and “two or three pints” of beer during a night that ended in a street brawl.

Taking to the witness box for the first time during his trial for affray, Stokes said he only engaged in a fight because he was protecting a fellow England player, Alex Hales, and a gay couple the pair had met earlier in the evening outside a nightclub.

The 27-year-old started throwing punches after seeing Ryan Ali, 28, waving a beer bottle and moving threateningly towards Hales, a jury heard. He said he was aware Ali’s friend Ryan Hale, a former serviceman, was also holding a glass beer bottle and that he had heard the pair directing homophobic abuse at “camp” couple William O’Connor and Kai Barry.

“Mr Ali was running towards Alex with the bottle above his head like he was going to hit him,” Stokes said. “I tried to get between Alex and Mr Ali and then Mr Ali turned around and swung at one of the gay couple with a bottle.

“As soon as I’ve seen Mr Ali physically hit someone, that’s when I took the decision I needed to get involved. I felt under threat and whatever I did was to keep myself and other people around me safe.”

Stokes said he had been drinking before the incident in September last year but was not drunk. He had consumed “some” beer at Bristol county ground after England beat the West Indies.

After driving back to the team hotel, a group of three or four players and some of their partners, including Stokes and his then fiancee, now wife, Clare Ratcliffe, had dinner where a further “two or three” pints were consumed by Stokes.

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Ben Stokes and his wife Clare Ratcliffe arrive Bristol crown court.

Ben Stokes and his wife Clare Ratcliffe arrive Bristol crown court. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Several players visited Mbargo nightclub in the city, where Stokes said he had “five or six” vodka and lemonade drinks. He and Hales later visited Pryzm nightclub, a short taxi ride away where Stokes had “probably more than one” vodka drink before the pair returned to Mbargo at 2.08am where they were denied entry because the door staff said it was too late.

Stokes told a jury the pair then met O’Connor and Barry outside the club and that they exchanged light hearted insults about each other’s attire but denied mimicking the couple’s “flamboyant” gestures in a homophobic manner, as suggested by the prosecution. A pair of bright white leather trainers with gold padlocks attached to the heel were shown to the court by Gordon Cole QC, representing Stokes.

“I get told from quite a lot of teammates that I dress the worst in team,” Stokes said, “I’m used to it.”

The jury heard the cricketers used a smartphone to try to navigate their way to a casino before encountering co-defendant Ali, along with Hale, O’Connor and Barry.

“I don’t remember specific words but it was very clear that the words being used towards these two gentlemen were about them being gay,” Stokes said. The exchange turned physical with Ali, who was knocked unconscious by a blow to the head from Stokes, receiving hospital treatment for facial injuries, including a fractured eye socket and cracked tooth.

Ryan Hale leaves Bristol crown court

Ryan Hale leaves Bristol crown court on Thursday. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

It was ruled there was not enough evidence to support a conviction of Hale, an Afghanistan veteran, who had also been charged with affray but was found not guilty by a jury on the instructions of the judge, Peter Blair QC.

Hale told police officers he feared Stokes “could have killed” somebody during the fight. “It’s the emotions of it all,” he said in a police interview last September. “Watching the video was shocking. I’m a dad. He could have killed. I don’t know why he didn’t stop. The way he was acting in the video, he could have beaten the living hell out of me.

“It’s shocking to see someone doing that to someone who didn’t do anything wrong. It’s quite shocking to think that I’ve been put in a situation like that.”

Stokes, of Castle Eden, Durham, and Ali, of Bristol, deny affray.

The trial continues.



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