England cricketer Ben Stokes will face a crown court trial after he appeared in court today to deny affray over an alleged street fight.
The all-rounder, 26, and two other men are accused of “street violence” during the bust-up outside a nightclub in Bristol last September.
It is said Stokes was fighting with Ryan Hale, 26, and Ryan Aslam Ali, 28, hours after completing a one-day international against the West Indies.
A 27-year-old man is said to have suffered a fractured eye socket in the altercation in the Clifton Triangle area of the city. All three defendants appeared side by side in the dock at Bristol magistrates’ court this morning to deny the charge of affray.
Prosecutor James Le Grys said: “The allegation is of street violence by a group of individuals who are in drink.”
Stokes, wearing a navy blue suit, was flanked by three bodyguards as he arrived at court. He was escorted by the police past waiting photographers.
In the dock, he stood with his hands clasped in front of him as he confirmed his name, age and address and indicated his not guilty plea.
Stokes’s England career has been on hold since the incident on September 25 and he missed this winter’s 4-0 Ashes drubbing.
However, he was released on unconditional bail today by District Judge Simon Cooper, leaving him free to potentially restart his international career.
He has been named in the 15-man squad to face New Zealand later this month and is now expected to fly out to join his teammates.
The judge ordered all three men to return to Bristol crown court for a hearing on March 12 when the date for the trial will be set.
“I have decided that your trial will take place at the crown court at Bristol,” said the judge. “The first hearing date will be March 12. You will be on bail.”
When he was charged, Stokes issued a statement on Twitter saying he was “keen to have an opportunity to clear my name”.
He said the decision to charge him “at least means my account of what happened that night can come out in court and be made public”, adding: “Until then, my focus is very much on cricket.”
However, he remained tight-lipped while entering and leaving court.
Stokes, from Castle Eden in Co Durham, and Hale and Ali, both from Bristol, all indicated not guilty pleas to affray, “using or threatening unlawful violence towards another”. They were all freed on unconditional bail until the next court hearing.