15/08/2018 10:23 BST | Updated 16/08/2018 14:32 BST

Couple At Centre Of Ben Stokes Trial Praise Cricketer For ‘Sticking Up For Two Gay Men’

'If he wasn’t there God only knows what would have happened.'

Two men at the centre of the Ben Stokes case have spoken about the night that saw the England cricketer eventually acquitted of affray.

Kai Barry and William O’Connor, who are the couple Stokes said he was defending from homophobic abuse outside a Bristol nightclub, have publicly thanked the 27-year-old sportsman.

Stokes punched co-accused Ryan Ali and Ryan Hale unconscious during the fracas in Bristol city centre in September last year. He maintained he heard Ali and Hale direct abuse at the gay couple, who were not called as witnesses to the trial.

When he intervened, telling the pair: “You shouldn’t be taking the piss because they are gay,” Stokes said Ali replied: “Shut the fuck up or I’ll bottle you.”

Speaking to Good Morning Britain, Barry said: “I was outside talking to Ben and smoking a cigarette with him. We walked around the corner and got followed by the two guys, they said something like a horrible remark, like a homophobic remark.

“Ben came running up the road to check that I was alright. He called me into the middle of the road. Then I pretty much got attacked by the bottle.”

PA Wire/PA Images
England cricketer Ben Stokes and his wife Clare leaving Bristol Crown Court after he was acquitted of affray 

When asked if Stokes had acted heroically, O’Connor replied: “I agree with that 100%. He stood up for us when we were vulnerable. If he wasn’t there God only knows what would have happened.”

Referring to the court case, which saw both Stokes and his co-accused Ryan Ali also cleared, Barry added: “I didn’t want that for him. He took a risk. I wouldn’t expect any normal person to do that in the middle of the street.”

Avon and Somerset Police/ PA
Stokes knocks out Ryan Hale with a punch during their fracas in Bristol city centre

He added: “Someone coming at you with a bottle, you can’t really not feel threatened.”

And he explained that he had not recognised him as a sports star on the evening.

Speaking about the verdict, he added: “We were both pleased for him.”

O’Connor echoed: “We are so delighted he got off and got back to his cricket.”

The couple also sent a message directly to Stokes, saying: “We’ve not spoke to him since. Thank you for what you did. I’m so sorry it went down like that. It shouldn’t have lasted that long in the first place. Any other person and it wouldn’t have would it?

O’Connor added: “Thank you. It’s brilliant what you did, sticking up for two gay men. You don’t really get people out there like that.”

William O'Connor and Kai Barry were not called as witnesses to the trial 

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “The evidence of Mr O’Connor and Mr Barry was disclosed to the defence but it was not deemed necessary to call them as witnesses in the case.”

Stokes was recalled to England’s test squad just hours after he was cleared and could regain his place for Saturday’s third Test at Trent Bridge after missing the win at Lord’s because of his trial.

It has now emerged that 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.

Lawyers for Hale, who was acquitted on the orders of the judge last week, had demanded to know why Alex Hales, an England batsman also present on the night, was not also charged despite CCTV footage which appeared to show him delivering a kick to Ali before he was knocked unconscious.  

Even Stokes’s own barrister suggested Hales, who was interviewed under caution but not arrested or charged in connection with the incident, may have been responsible for Ali’s injuries.

The initial decision on charges was taken by the Crown Prosecution Service. 

According to the Times, Judge Peter Blair “expressed surprise” at the matter and indicated assault charges – which could have left the cricketer facing a sentence of up to 13 years in jail – would have been allowed if requested at a pre-trial hearing in February.