England cricketer Ben Stokes has denied mocking a gay man and throwing a cigarette butt at his head as he gave evidence in court for the first time.
The all-rounder told the jury at Bristol Crown Court that he had “stepped in” to defend two gay men from homophobic abuse before an alleged fight outside a night club.
Stokes is accused of knocking out two friends, Ryan Hale, 27, and Ryan Ali, 28, during an alleged dispute near a nightclub in the Clifton Triangle area of Bristol on 25 September last year.
The all-rounder, who plays for Durham, is standing trial in Bristol jointly accused of affray alongside Ali. Co-accused Hale was found not guilty of the same charge by the jury on the direction of the judge.
Stokes told the hearing he had gone out with teammates after England had beaten the West Indies in a one-day international in the city.
After a meal, Stokes and some other England players went to the Mbargo nightclub. The group left, with Stokes and Alex Hales returning to try and re-enter the club.
He said Mbargo doorman Andrew Cunningham had told them they would not be allowed back in, saying: “(He was) pretty blunt.”
When asked about offering Cunningham money, Stokes disputed he had offered £300, claiming it would have been around £60 or £70.
“I would say it was £60, £70. I would say ‘If we give you some money can we come in?’. (He said) ‘No, you’re not getting in’,” Stokes said.
Describing Cunningham’s tone, the cricketer said: “It was still blunt but there was definitely a change in his attitude from when we offered him money to get back into the club.
“The tone and the way he was speaking to us just changed. It went from being just blunt and started to be a bit more…
“It was like he had something against us because we had offered him money to get back in.”
Stokes added: “I didn’t use the c-word towards him. I said to him ‘Come on mate, I’ve got shit tattoos as well, let us back in’.”
Defender Gordon Cole QC asked Stokes to explain the reference to “shit tattoos” and he replied: “I am constantly getting told by teammates and by who I play with that I have got shit tattoos.”
Stokes denied flicking a cigarette butt at gay men Kai Barry and William O’Connor or making a V-sign to Cunningham or mentioning his gold front teeth.
He said he been wearing black ripped jeans, a green t-shirt and white Buscemi high-top shoes with gold padlocks on the back.
“My attire on that night got mentioned,” he said. “It was one of the gay couple.”
Cole held up the Buscemi leather shoes to the jury.
“I had never heard of the brand, I just quite liked them,” Stokes said.
Judge Peter Blair QC interjected: “Italian white leather, aren’t they?”
Mr Cole played to the jury the section of CCTV from outside Mbargo which shows an exchange between Stokes and O’Connor and Barry and then the cricketer appearing to mimic them.
“I get told by quite a lot of my teammates that I dress the worst in the team,” Stokes said.
“We both exchanged comments about what one another were wearing.”
Referring to another exchange, Stokes added: “That was about the state of my shoes.” He denied mimicking the two men.
Stokes agreed with Mr Cole that O’Connor and Barry were “openly camp” and the barrister asked him whether any of it was homophobic.
“No, absolutely not,” Stokes said. “The only comments between myself and the gay couple was what we had chosen to wear that night.”
The jurors watched the CCTV clip of what appears to be Stokes flicking a cigarette butt towards one of the gay men.
“I don’t remember flicking a cigarette towards anyone,” he said.
“Obviously, it looks like I have thrown something in the direction of one of those two gentlemen.”
Mr Cole asked: “Did you get angry about what was being said? Upset? Enraged?”
Stokes replied: “No.”
He said before leaving he shook the hand of one of the two doormen, but Cunningham refused to accept his hand.
Stokes told the jury of the build-up to the alleged affray. He said he heard Ali and Hale shouting homophobic abuse at O’Connor and Barry.
“Mr O’Connor and Mr Barry were going back to them. They were not just letting them say what they were saying and were prepared to defend what they were saying verbally,” Stokes said.
Asked what Ali and Hale were saying, Stokes replied: “Specific words? No, I don’t but I am very clear that the words being used towards these two gentlemen were about them being gay.
“I stepped in and said you shouldn’t be saying those things to those two men.”
When asked about the exact phrase he used, Stokes said: “You shouldn’t be taking the piss because they are gay.
“I was told by Mr Ali along the lines of ‘Shut the fuck up or I’ll bottle you’.”
Stokes confirmed that he could see that Ali was holding a beer bottle and added: “I went down the same lines as what I told them before and telling him that he shouldn’t be saying what he was saying to those two guys.”
Stokes said the alleged fracas began when Ali held the neck of the upturned bottle in his hand and began “waving it around”.
“From my recollection I don’t remember which specific words, but it was just lots of shouting and Mr Ali was running towards Alex Hales with a bottle above his head like he was going to hit him,” Stokes said.
“I remember getting between Alex and Mr Ali and then he turned around and he, Mr Ali, swung at one of the gay couple.
“As soon as I see Mr Ali swing the bottle and physically hit them that’s when I took the decision to get involved.
“I remember taking a swing at Mr Ali. I just remember (him) just coming towards me and I remember tussling around with him, I eventually fell to the floor.”
Stokes went on: “To start with he had threatened me and told me to shut the fuck up or bottle me, simply for getting involved in an altercation he was having with two men.
“He then ran at one of my friends who I have known for a long time and then he tried to hit somebody with a bottle.
“I was trying to stop Mr Ali doing damage to anybody was a glass bottle. I remember taking a punch at Mr Ali and I remember both of us falling to the floor and rolling around the floor and I remember someone coming up behind me, grabbing me.
“There were arms around the top of my body, arms around my legs and trying to keep me down on the floor.”
Stokes said that when he got back to his feet Hale was stood in front of him “pointing at me with his arms raised up”.
“As soon as I saw Mr Hale stood in front of me I didn’t want to give a chance to anyone to do something to me,” Stokes said.
“I was protecting myself. I would say that I took a decision of what I did very quickly,” Stokes added.
“As soon as this episode started I knew that not just myself, but other people could be a target of either of these two men.
“One had already verbally told me what he would do if I didn’t ‘Shut the f*** up’.
“He had ran at a close friend of mine with a bottle.
“As soon as I decided to get involved… everything that I carried out… 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 had earlier told the court he had been drinking beer and later vodka and lemonade before the incident, but denied he was drunk. He also responded to a photograph taken of himself with his teammates earlier in the evening which appeared to show him looking angry.
Asked about it, Stokes described his face as a “pretty stupid face”.
Mr Cole said: “There might be a suggestion that this photograph suggests your demeanour. Where you in a bad mood?”
Stokes replied: “No.”
Earlier Mr Cole asked Stokes to show the jury his right hand and wrist and explain why he asked the officer who arrested him to loosen the handcuff.
“My right index finger has been this way since 2011. It was a cricketing injury,” he said.
Stokes said he had undergone five or six operations on his right-hand following cricket injuries.
Stokes, of Stockton Road, Castle Eden, Durham, and Ali, of Forest Road, Bristol, each deny a charge of affray.
The trial continues.