BRISTOL: England cricketer Ben Stokes was found not guilty of affray in a unanimous decision by a jury in less than three hours of deliberations following a trial at Bristol Crown Court.
The 27-year-old – whose co-defendant Ryan Ali was also found unanimously not guilty – had been charged following a brawl hours after England played the West Indies in a one-day international in Bristol, southwest England, in September last year. His wife, Clare, cried when the not guilty verdicts were returned while Stokes closed his eyes with relief and then looked up. Stokes shook hands with Ali on leaving the dock at the end of the trial that lasted seven days.
Whilst Stokes – whose travails are not over as he faces a disciplinary hearing by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – stayed inside a smiling Ali restricted himself to telling the BBC he was “relieved it was all over”. At the start of the trial the prosecution 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.
The jury had also been warned twice by Peter Blair about press coverage and social media on the latter occasion instructing them to avoid looking at commentary of the case after Stokes’s lawyer raised the issue. One Twitter user created a poll asking whether Stokes should play cricket for England again if he was convicted but escaped a prison sentence. New Zealand-born Stokes said in his testimony last Friday he had a “significant memory blackout” but he was “absolutely not” an angry man who had lost all control.
Stokes – who was with England team-mate Alex Hales – said he intervened because 28-year-old Ali and his friend Ryan Hale – who had been acquitted earlier in the trial – had directed alleged homophobic abuse at gay men William O’Connor and Kai Barry as they walked away from Mbargo nightclub.