Ben Stokes felt “under threat of immediate attack” moments before he became involved in a brawl in Bristol, the jury at Bristol Crown Court has been told.
Stokes, the England cricketer who is standing trial for affray alongside Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale, was also described as feeling “vulnerable and frightened” as the incident unfolded and claimed that, having seen at least one bottle used in the brawl, feared his opponents had “demonstrated a willingness to use weapons in attacking people.” As a result, he claims he “had a reasonable belief they may be carrying more weapons, perhaps of a more serious type.”
In statements provided to the police in the aftermath of the incident and read to the court on the third day of the trial – the first time since the incident that Stokes’ version of events has been made public – he also claimed that two men (Kai Barry and William O’Connor), who he claims had been subjected to “nasty homophobic abuse” from Ali and Hale, thanked him for protecting them.
Stokes claims that, not long after leaving the Mbargo nightclub in the early hours of the morning on September 25, a group of four men came to his attention as they appeared to be engaged in an argument.
“As the group came to my attention, I heard some of what was being said,” Stokes said in the written statement. “Although I can’t remember anything specific now, I do 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. 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.
“I decided to intervene and asked Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale to stop abusing Kai and William. I said something like ‘leave it out – you shouldn’t be taking the piss because they’re gay.’
“In response one of the guys said ‘Shut the f*** up and f**** off or I’ll bottle you.’ At the time he was holding a bottle in his right hand.
“I decided at this point matters had become too serious to ignore and that I had to intervene to stop Ryan Ali. I struck Ryan Ali with my right hand just after he had delivered the blow on Kai and as he came at me with the bottle and had it raised.
“At this point, I felt vulnerable and frightened. I was concerned for myself and others. 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. 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 know 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.
“As the footage shows, when initially repelled, each of the men attacked and advanced towards me again. I needed to ensure that the incident was over and believed that I and those that I was with remained under threat at all material times.
“Both Kai and William thanked me for preventing them from being beaten up.”
The police interview given by Ryan Ali was also read to the jury on the third day of the trial. In it, Ali denied saying anything offensive to either Barry or O’Connor, but accepted that “one of the guys” became “quite irate” after “banter” between the men.
“He raised his voice fairly loudly,” Ali said. “I know he wasn’t happy. I don’t know why he became irate.”
Ali also claimed he didn’t recall where the bottle came from or holding it but accepted, having watched CCTV footage, that he brandished one in self-defence.
“I believe I felt threatened,” he said. “I’ve a bottle up saying ‘move back’ I’m not trying to attack anyone. I can only guess I thought I was going to be attacked.”
Ali also described how, as he lay “in the gutter” having allegedly been punched by Stokes, he made a phone call to the council’s CCTV office to ensure they had footage of the incident. He was subsequently taken to hospital by ambulance and diagnosed with a fractured eye socket.
Earlier in the day, the jury were shown body-camera footage from the police officer (PC Stacey Allway) who arrested Stokes and heard from an off-duty police and community support officer who suggested Stokes was “the main aggressor” during the part of the fight he witnessed.
Stokes is expected to take the witness stand on Thursday at about the time his England colleagues are due to start play in the Test against India at Lord’s.
The trial continues.