England's Stokes not guilty of affray


Ben Stokes

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Ben Stokes’ defence barrister told the jury he had acted “to defend himself or in defence of another”

England cricketer Ben Stokes has been found not guilty of affray after a fight near a Bristol nightclub.

The Durham all-rounder, 27, denied the charge following the fracas between a group of men last September.

His lawyer Paul Lunt said it was “the end of an 11-month ordeal” for Mr Stokes, who was “keen to get back to cricket being his sole focus”.

Ryan Ali, 28 – who was knocked unconscious in the brawl – was also found not guilty of the same charge.

The fight happened several hours after England had played a one-day international against the West Indies at the County Ground in the city.

Mr Stokes and Mr Ali shook hands on leaving the dock.

His wife, Clare Stokes, cried when the not guilty verdicts were returned while her husband closed his eyes with relief and then looked up.

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Ryan Ali has been cleared of affray

During the six-day trial, Bristol Crown Court heard the incident described as “a sustained episode of significant violence” from Mr Stokes – of Castle Eden in Durham – who had “lost control”.

The prosecution said he was “drunk and enraged” after being refused entry back into Mbargo nightclub at 02:00 BST on 25 September.

But Mr Stokes told the jury he had “stepped in” to defend two gay men who were being verbally abused, and then had to defend himself from Mr Ali – of Forest Road in Bristol – and Ryan Hale, 27, who were threatening violence.

Mr Hale, of Burghill Road in Westbury-on-Trym, was acquitted of the same charge last week.

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Media captionHow events unfolded the night Ben Stokes was arrested

Mr Ali, who works for the emergency services, suffered a fractured eye socket in the brawl while Mr Hale, a former soldier, was left with concussion.

As Mr Ali left court, smiling, he told BBC Sport editor Dan Roan he was “relieved it’s all over” and said he had no further comment to make.

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Media captionBen Stokes’ lawyer, Paul Lunt, said the jury’s decision fairly reflected the truth of what happened in Bristol that night.

Outside court, two cricket fans from Bristol – who were part of the crowd awaiting the outcome – said they were pleased with the verdict.

Arthur Davis, 30, said: “He’s a great player although not in form and maybe this will change that.”

And Javen Rahiman, 26, said: “I’m pretty pleased but it’s not the best example he’s setting, especially as the evening of the fight was after such a good victory.

“I hope it’s a kick up the backside for him and he can focus more on the game now with no distractions.”

After the verdict the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) said Mr Stokes would be added to England’s squad for the third Test against India.

The BBC’s cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew, said Mr Stokes would now face an ECB independent disciplinary committee, likely charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

On the first day of the trial, the prosecution team applied for Mr Stokes to be charged with two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, a lesser charge, but this was rejected by Judge Peter Blair QC.


What is affray? Analysis from Clive Coleman, BBC legal correspondent

Under the Public Order Act 1986, ‘a person is guilty of affray if he uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another and his conduct is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety’.

So, though it may seem odd, the offence is not designed simply to protect those involved in the violent incident itself: it is also designed to protect other people who are present.

That could include, for example, passers by in a street, those drinking in a pub, or fans at a football game when violence is threatened or actually occurs.

However, the ‘person of reasonable firmness’ need not actually be present at the scene.

This person is sometimes known as the ‘hypothetical bystander’ and it is he or she rather than the victim, who must fear for his or her personal safety.

There must be a ‘victim’ present against whom the violence is to be directed, and some conduct, beyond the use of words, which is threatening and directed towards a person or people.




Stokes 'lied about self-defence'


Ben Stokes

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Ben Stokes, who denies affray, is alleged to have knocked a man out outside a Bristol club

England cricketer Ben Stokes lied when he said he acted in self-defence during a fight outside a nightclub, a court has heard.

The Durham all-rounder, 27, denies affray at Bristol Crown Court.

Prosecutor Nicholas Corsellis said Mr Stokes “acted deplorably as the red mist came down” – something his defence team labelled as “nonsense”.

The cricketer is on trial alongside Ryan Ali, 28, whom he is alleged to have knocked out outside Mbargo.

Mr Ali has also denied affray while Ryan Hale, 27, was acquitted of the same charge last Thursday.

Giving his closing speech, Mr Corsellis told the jury Mr Stokes acted “to defend himself or in defence of another” when Mr Ali had a bottle in his hand, but then “quickly turned aggressor”.

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Ryan Ali has also denied a charge of affray

“Even if Mr Stokes has begun using self-defence, he very, very quickly after this became the aggressor, with Mr Hale trying to pacify him together with Mr Ali,” Mr Corsellis said.

“He was pursuing them into the road, repeatedly punching at them at least six times, with his teammate Alex Hales calling him away ‘Stokes… Stokes… stop… stop…’.

“If Mr Stokes was being tried alone, we submit that his behaviour would constitute an affray.

“It is plain Mr Stokes is lying.”

Mr Corsellis added that Mr Stokes “acted deplorably as the red mist came down and struck with such force that he rendered one person unconscious”.

‘Complete nonsense’

During his closing speech, Mr Stokes’s barrister Gordon Cole QC said it was “complete nonsense” for the prosecution to say the cricketer was “drunk and enraged”.

He said CCTV footage from just before the fight showed he was “not behaving in a drunk way”.

He added that footage recorded by film student Max Wilson “clearly shows Ryan Ali going at Alex Hales with a bottle”.

“You can see where Ben Stokes is, he’s not rushing at anybody, he’s not charging into the fray.”

‘Special treatment’

Mr Cole said there had been a “great deal of rowing back” by the prosecution since the trial began.

“Is this man [Mr Stokes] getting special treatment because of who he is?” Mr Cole asked.

Last week, giving evidence, the cricketer said he “stepped in” to defend two gay men before the fight in Bristol on 25 September last year.

During her closing speech, Mr Ali’s defence barrister Anna Midgley said there had been nothing to show her client had suddenly lost it “from a calm gentleman to a total personality change”.

“His demeanour generally, and on the footage that we’ve seen, does not show an aggressive, homophobic person,” she said.

Mr Stokes, of Castle Eden, Durham, was arrested in the early hours along with Mr Ali, of Bristol, and Mr Hale, of Westbury-on-Trym.

The fight took place several hours after England had played a one-day international against the West Indies at the city’s County Ground.

The trial continues.



Stokes admits to 'throwing several punches'


Ben Stokes

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Ben Stokes denies affray in a trial at Bristol Crown Court

England cricketer Ben Stokes admitted throwing several punches at a man outside a nightclub in Bristol, a jury has heard.

The Durham all-rounder, who denies affray, has taken to the stand for a second day at Bristol Crown Court.

Mr Stokes, 27, said: “It’s clear in my statements that I admit to throwing multiple punches.”

He is on trial alongside Ryan Ali, 28, who the cricketer is alleged to have knocked out, outside the Mbargo club.

Mr Ali has also denied a charge of affray while Ryan Hale, 27, was acquitted of the same charge on Thursday.

Mr Stokes told the court he felt “constantly under threat” by Mr Ali and Mr Hale who he claims made homophobic slurs to two gay men, Kai Barry and William O’Connor.

But when questioned by the prosecution, he admitted “slapping” but not knocking out Mr Ali or being very drunk.

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Media captionFootage from the arresting officer’s bodycam was shown to the jury at Mr Stokes’ trial

He agreed he had had at least 10 drinks, including pints of beer, vodka and lemonade as well as “a few” Jagerbombs, which are shots usually mixed with energy drinks.

Under cross-examination by Mr Ali’s defence counsel, he was questioned whether he had misheard what was being said.

But, he maintained Mr Ali and Mr Hale made homophobic comments outside the club in the Clifton triangle area of Bristol during the early hours of 25 September last year.

Mr Stokes told the jury he was not “threatening or aggressive” towards the men.

“I’d say I was verbally saying ‘I don’t think you should be saying that to these two guys because they’re gay’,” he said.

He also said he could not remember the specific homophobic words used.

“As I’ve said I can’t recollect anything specific, but I’m very clear the words used were a homophobic nature.”

As the prosecution began its cross-examination of the cricketer, the jury was shown CCTV pictures from outside Mbargo, where he was denied entry.

‘Effeminate nature’

Mr Stokes admitted trying to bribe doorman Andrew Cunningham with £60 to get in, but denied it was as much as £300.

He also denied being spiteful and aggressive or making derogatory marks about the doorman’s tattoos or throwing a cigarette in his direction when he was refused entry.

The court heard Mr Cunningham perceived Mr Stokes as “mocking” the gay men’s mannerisms” and mimicking “their voices and effeminate nature”, which the defendant refuted.

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Avon and Somerset Police

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The jury was shown CCTV footage apparently showing the men involved – including Ben Stokes – in a fight in the street

Mr Stokes also denied being angry about not being allowed back into the club, where he was with fellow England player Alex Hales.

The court heard Mr Stokes had first played with Mr Hales in 2011, prompting prosecutor Nicholas Corsellis to suggest “you’d recognise his voice would you not?”. The defendant agreed he would.

But when Mr Corsellis asked whether he heard Mr Hales call out to him, “Stokes stop, Stokes no…”, during the incident, he said he did not.

“Did you not appreciate that the person who grabbed you by the arm was Alex Hales? Do you not remember he tried to grab you?,” said Mr Corsellis, to which Mr Stokes said “no.”

The cricketer also denied feeling enraged when his friend, Mr Hales was “ran at with a glass bottle” by Mr Ali.

Mr Stokes replied: “Throughout this whole incident my whole focus was where Mr Ali was and where Mr Hale was, from the moment I was verbally threatened and my friend Alex was run at with a glass bottle.”


At Bristol Crown Court

Chris Sandys, BBC News

Ben Stokes’s attire, demeanour, speech and poise have all remained the same throughout several hours of giving evidence.

Most of the time he remains standing, with the occasional request to sit which eases the back pain he is apparently suffering with.

Many of his responses have been short and mostly themed around having little memory of the night he is being quizzed over.


Prosecuting, Mr Corsellis asked: “Were you enraged?”.

“No, at this time my sole focus was to protect myself,” Mr Stokes replied.

He was then asked by the prosecution whether he tried to retaliate against Mr Ali after being disarmed by him, which he denied.

Mr Corsellis asked: “Is it what we see on the footage – an angry man who has lost all control?”

Stokes replied: “Absolutely not.”

The trial continues.



Stokes denies homophobic comments


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Media captionFootage from the arresting officer’s bodycam has been shown to the jury at Mr Stokes’ trial.

England cricketer Ben Stokes told a court he “stepped in” to defend two gay men before an alleged brawl.

The Durham all-rounder is one of two men accused of fighting outside a Bristol nightclub on 25 September.

Mr Stokes, 27, denies affray and says he acted in self defence. He said he had drunk up to three pints and six vodka and lemonades but was not drunk.

Ryan Ali, 28, has also denied affray while Ryan Hale, 27, was acquitted at Bristol Crown Court of affray earlier.

Giving evidence for the first time, Mr Stokes told the court he intervened when he heard Mr Hale and Mr Ali “shouting homophobic comments” at two gay men, Kai Barry and William O’Connor.

He told the jury: “I stepped in and said ‘you shouldn’t be saying these things to these two men’.”

‘Knocked unconscious’

The prosecution has accused Mr Stokes of mimicking the voices and mannerisms of Mr Barry and Mr O’Connor in what was described as “a derogatory way”.

Mr Stokes was asked by his barrister Gordon Cole QC if any of his actions towards the two gay men outside Mbargo nightclub were homophobic.

The cricketer told the court: “Definitely not. The only comments between myself and this gay couple was about what we was wearing that night.”

Prosecutors previously told the court Mr Ali, who they say had been holding a glass beer bottle, and Mr Hale were knocked unconscious by Mr Stokes.

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Julia Quenzler

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Ben Stokes has begun giving evidence in his defence in court

When asked what was “the first action in any violence” Mr Stokes replied: “Mr Ali turning the bottle he had. He took the neck of the bottle.”

Mr Stokes said he had been “protecting himself” and the people around him when he got involved in the fight.

He said: “I took the decision for what I did very quickly. As soon as this episode started I knew not just myself but other people could be a target of these two men.

He added: “As soon as I decided to get involved, everything I did was under self-defence. I did what I could to keep myself and those around me safe.”

When asked if he had become “enraged” at any point during the incident, Mr Stokes replied it was a “difficult question to answer”.

The 6ft 2in tall sportsman added: “I didn’t know they could be carrying more weapons on them.

“They could decide to attack me at any time if I was to turn my back on either of these two.

“At all times I felt under threat from these two.”

Mr Stokes, who was dressed in court in a blue suit, white shirt and blue tie, said that after a win against the West Indies he had celebrated at the ground then had two or three pints with a meal.

After the meal, Mr Stokes and some of his England teammates went to Mbargo, where they drank five or six vodka and lemonades.

‘Nothing unusual’

Mr Cole asked: “Were you drunk?” “No,” Mr Stokes replied.

The cricketer said a large group then decided to go to the Pryzm nightclub instead.

Mr Cole showed the jury a photograph of Mr Stokes and teammates James Anderson, Jake Ball and Alex Hales taken outside Pryzm.

He then returned to Mbargo in a taxi with Mr Hales.

Mr Stokes said there was nothing unusual in how he had behaved in his dealings with nightclub doorman Andrew Cunningham.

When asked by Mr Cole if he had become enraged at some point, Mr Stokes said: “No.”

He also said he did not remember flicking his cigarette at the gay couple outside the club.

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Ryan Hale has been found not guilty of affray

The court heard earlier that former soldier Mr Hale told police in a formal interview he believed Mr Stokes could have killed him.

He added: “I’m a dad. He could have killed me. I don’t know why he didn’t stop.”

Mr Stokes, of Castle Eden, Durham, and Mr Ali, of Bristol, both deny a joint charge of affray.

The trial continues.



How a row over narrow strip of Lord's land has rumbled on for 19 years


England v India in a one day international at Lord's in July 2018

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England and India have already faced each other once at Lord’s this year – in the ODI series

As England’s players prepare to step out at Lord’s for the second Test against India, they will be unaware of a long-running wrangle rumbling away not far below their feet.

It is a saga that stretches back nearly two decades, and involves a dispute over a narrow strip of land at the edge of the historic complex in north London known as “the home of cricket”.

The stretch of land, measuring 200m by 38m (656ft by 125ft) at the Nursery End of the Lord’s site, sits above disused Victorian railway tunnels.

And that area has been at the heart of a tussle between the ground’s owners – Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) – and the owner of the lease on that strip of land, property developer Charles Rifkind.

‘Hotly debated’

After being frustrated by the MCC in his plans to develop the site over the past two decades, Mr Rifkind has teamed up with property consortium New Commonwealth – headed by developer entrepreneur Johnny Sandelson – to look at selling off portions of the land.

“We have had lots of interest, particularly from the Indian subcontinent, who see Lord’s as a special place in their hearts,” says Mr Sandelson, adding that there have been 10,000 strong expressions of interest.

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The New Commonwealth consortium is being fronted by former England captain David Gower

Mr Sandelson is now working with financial regulators to get the all-clear to sell bits off in around nine months’ time. Shares in the land will be sold via tokens called Lordscoins, which will be traded via blockchain technology.

But there is a catch.

Although the MCC does not own the tunnels, or any development rights to the land on top, it does have a sub-lease on the top 18 inches of the land – which runs until 2137.

And that makes property development impossible for another 119 years at the earliest.

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New Commonwealth

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New Commonwealth hopes to attract cricket fans from around the globe to invest

“It is obviously a long-term asset. But people’s grandchildren can have extraordinary development opportunities right in the middle of St John’s Wood,” says Mr Sandelson.

“We are democratising real-estate ownership.”

Auction sale

The drama began on 9 November 1999, when Railtrack – which at the time controlled the UK’s railway infrastructure – told the MCC that the main lease on the strip of land above the 1890s tunnels would be sold at a public auction a month later.

It also invited the club to make a pre-auction offer for this main lease.

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The Nursery Ground and pavilions above the rail tunnels can be seen at the back of the photos, behind the media centre

But negotiations in the month leading up to the deadline were unsuccessful, and the land and 999-year lease were bought at auction by Mr Rifkind for £2,350,000 – above what the MCC said it could afford.

The club had just completed two major capital building projects – the Grand Stand and the Media Centre – which had depleted its cash reserves.

“Not buying the tunnels was a blindingly obvious mistake,” says writer Matthew Engel, a former editor of the cricketing bible Wisden, and someone who has followed the story closely.

“This is a tale of immense complexity. I don’t know if it will ever be satisfactorily resolved.”

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MCC

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How the MCC plans to redevelop the Nursery End and move the Nursery Ground

Mr Rifkind’s plans – to build 94 flats on the space – were rebuffed last year when MCC members voted for their own redevelopment scheme, or “Lord’s Masterplan”, for the ground.

The MCC plan involves the redevelopment of the Nursery End by removing temporary pavilions currently situated over the railway tunnels, and moving the existing Nursery Ground cricket pitch down over this space.


Building the Lord’s railway tunnels

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Leicestershire County Council

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The construction of the tunnels beneath Lord’s Cricket Ground in the 1890s

In the 1890s the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway opted to build the new Great Central Railway directly beneath Lord’s Cricket Ground in St Johns Wood. The cricketers were promised a brand new pitch, and the photograph above shows construction work in progress.

The tunnels were built between 1894 and 1898 by the cut-and-cover method, rather than boring. In the picture the wooden centrings are in place and the brick courses are being built up. The scale of the work can be judged by the group of navvies gathered in the bottom right of the picture.

When finished, the area was covered over and the new cricket pitch laid.


‘Control of our destiny’

“There was a very long, bruising and robust debate over a number of years which was concluded when the membership overwhelmingly voted for a Lord’s redevelopment via our own resources,” says MCC chief executive Guy Lavender.

“There have been a number of different thoughts about what is needed, but the masterplan puts the club and cricket at its heart. We have control of our own destiny, to develop in our own way.”

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Patrick Eagar

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MCC chief Guy Lavender says there has been a robust debate about the strip of land over the years

Mr Rifkind’s development proposal came with the offer of a £100m letter of credit for the MCC.

“This has been an area of some discussion,” says Mr Lavender. “However, we can afford to develop the ground at a pace we can afford. We are not dependent on the £100m to develop the ground in the way we want.

“We have got good revenue generation, and will continue to do so. We will now get on with our first phase, redeveloping the Compton and Edrich Stands.”

‘Common ground’

Meanwhile, the MCC says it is sanguine about plans by others to cash in on the Nursery Ground land.

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The MCC has a masterplan to redevelop the Lord’s ground in a number of different phases

“It doesn’t impact on us,” Mr Lavender says. “In 119 years’ time, if that situation hasn’t changed, then that small strip of land will cease to be a part of Lord’s and we will have a smaller Nursery Ground.

“We continue to meet Mr Rifkind to discuss a range of issues. If we find some common ground, we would consider making him an offer at a price we could agree on. But that is not the case at present.”

‘Missed opportunity’

Matthew Engel says that despite 20 years of soaring property prices in the St John’s Wood area, the MCC has not financially benefited from it.

“As a property developer Mr Rifkind saw a place at Lord’s that was not being developed, and wanted to do it,” he says. “He saw the ugly wall at the edge of Lord’s, and unused space, and thought that – to mutual advantage – he could make something of it. But the opportunity has been missed [by the MCC].”

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IAN KINGTON/AFP/Getty Images

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The land at the centre of the issue is on the other side of this wall in Wellington Road, St John’s Wood

And the cricket writer says he does not think the plan to sell off portions of the land will resolve matters.

“I think the moment for compromise or agreement has passed,” he says. “It will be a very long time before we have any conclusion to this issue, if at all.”



Stokes trial shown CCTV footage of 'melee outside nightclub'


Ben Stokes outside Bristol Crown Court

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Ben Stokes denies affray and is on trial at Bristol Crown Court

Jurors have been shown CCTV footage of England cricketer Ben Stokes involved in an alleged “melee” outside a nightclub with two other men.

The Durham all-rounder is one of three men accused of fighting in Bristol on 25 September.

Bristol Crown Court previously heard Ryan Ali, 28, and Ryan Hale, 27, were knocked unconscious by 27-year-old Mr Stokes, who denies affray.

Mr Ali and Mr Hale also deny affray and are on trial alongside the cricketer.

The CCTV footage shows Mr Hales behind Mr Stokes and the cricketer approaching a retreating Mr Ali, jurors were told.

Mr Hale collapsed to the floor outside a shop window before picking himself up after 20 seconds, disappearing from view and then returning.

Det Con Daniel Adams, the officer in the case, told the court Mr Hale “returns with what appears to be a metal pole with a t-bar on it”.

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Ryan Ali (left) and Ryan Hale have both pleaded not guilty to affray

The officer told the jury it was “very difficult to tell” from the footage what Mr Hale was doing with the pole, but he “made his way back towards the melee carrying the bar”.

Nicholas Corsellis, prosecuting, asked if he saw Mr Hale “put that implement down before he gets to the group?” Det Con Adams replied: “No.”

Mr Stokes, of Castle Eden, Durham, was arrested in the early hours along with Mr Ali, of Bristol, and Mr Hale, of Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol.

The fight took place several hours after England had played a one-day international against West Indies at the city’s County Ground.

The trial continues.