UPDATE: The jury at the Ben Stokes trial at Bristol Crown Court has been directed by Judge Peter Blair QC to find defendant Ryan Hale not guilty of affray following legal submissions. Hale was formally found not guilty and invited to leave the dock.
The defence for England cricketer Ben Stokes is due to begin today, after the prosecution formally closed its case.
The 27-year-old all-rounder is accused, along with two other men, of affray in the Clifton Triangle area of Bristol during the early hours of September 25 last year.
Two friends Ryan Ali, 28, and Ryan Hale, 27, who Stokes is alleged to have knocked out during the fracas, are also on trial. All three deny a joint charge of affray.
Bristol Crown Court heard Stokes was the “main aggressor” in a fight that broke out between him and Ali and Hale – near a nightclub in the city.
A jury has been told Stokes mocked two gay men 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 the two men, named as Kai Barry and William O’Connor.
Images released on Wednesday 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.
On Thursday morning the court heard Hale had claimed in a police interview that Stokes “could have killed him.”
Hale added: “It’s the emotions of it all. The fact I’ve been attacked. Watching the video was shocking.
“I’m a dad. He could have killed me. I don’t know why he didn’t stop. You hear about it all the time – he could have.
“Just 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.”
Hale, a former soldier, told police he, Ali and another man had been out celebrating his promotion at work and left Mbargo when the nightclub closed.
He said he and Ali were walking up Queen’s Road with O’Connor and Barry, when Stokes suddenly came running towards them.
“I remember two guys coming from the road and I remember saying ‘I don’t want no trouble’. I don’t remember which order it was in. ‘I don’t want no trouble’,” he said.
“Laid out on the floor. I don’t really remember how it all happened from there.”
Hale told police that a month before the incident he had suffered a mini-stroke – caused by an undiagnosed hole in the heart – that had affected his short-term memory.
“I’d had stuff to drink, I don’t know how much, a lot. From the movement on the video, I am not acting like a drunk idiot,” he said.
He said that as they walked up the road after leaving Mbargo there had been “banter” between him and Ali and O’Connor and Barry.
“The first thing he did was put his hand on my knob. I’m an ex-soldier, to me it’s banter,” he said.
“It did not offend me at all. He was pinching my arse and I grabbed him and said ‘You’re coming home with me’. He said ‘Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m going home with any other bloke’.
“He probably thought I wasn’t going to be like that. I was like, it’s fine, no problem, and just carried on walking.”
Hale said that initially he thought Stokes had targeted him first but the video shows the cricketer going for his friend, Ali.
“I remember saying ‘I don’t want any trouble’. Then he attacked me and Ryan (Ali) intervenes but clearly it was the other way round,” Hale said.
“I just remember them crossing the road and there was a commotion. I don’t know why it happened.
“I am pulling him off because he is going to cane his face in and the gay guys are trying to pull me away.
“I am telling him to stop. He is having a go at Ryan and I am trying to stop any fight, to stop him getting hurt.
“That’s the moment I get smashed to the face.”
Hale told police that he saw Stokes’s England team-mate Alex Hales “stamp” on the face of Ali as he lay on the floor.
“They were kicking him in the face,” he told officers during the interview, in which he had been cautioned but not arrested.
“I saw Hales with a flat foot, stamping on his face. I said ‘Oi, oi, oi’.
“Hales runs off across the road. I grabbed Stokes, he is a big lad, and [I said] ‘Leave it’.”
Hale said O’Connor and Barry pulled him to help him up.
“I was the innocent bystander getting assaulted brutally for nothing, standing there with open fists being smacking around the place,” Hale said.
“There’s no self-defence and he isn’t defending anyone else.”
Gordon Cole, QC, representing Stokes, is expected to begin presenting his client’s case at midday, when the jury returns.