Police appeal for key witnesses in Stokes brawl investigation

Police appeal for key witnesses to Stokes incident (0:52)

Andrew Miller on how the search for two men may hold the key to Ben Stokes' hopes of retaining his place in England's Ashes squad (0:52)

Avon and Somerset Police have issued an appeal for two witnesses to come forward to support the alibi offered by Ben Stokes, the England allrounder, in the wake of his arrest in Bristol in the small hours of Monday morning.

Stokes, the England Test vice-captain, and his team-mate Alex Hales were suspended indefinitely by the ECB on Thursday, after video footage emerged via The Sun newspaper that allegedly showed Stokes throwing punches in a fight outside a nightclub in Bristol.

The incident, which occurred at 2.35am in the Clifton area of the city, led to Stokes being detained overnight before being released without charge pending further investigations. Hales, who was present during the incident, returned to Bristol voluntarily on Tuesday to help police with their inquiries.

The police investigation would now appear to hinge on the identification of two men present that night, whom the players claim were being subjected to homophobic abuse prior to the incident.

"Our enquiries into the disorder in the Queens Road/Clifton Triangle area of Bristol in the early hours of Monday are continuing," read an update on the Avon and Somerset Police Twitter feed.

"We believe there are two specific witnesses, both men, with information about what happened in the moments prior to the disorder who are yet to come forward and we'd appeal for them to do so as soon as possible."

This version of events, first aired on Twitter by the media personality Piers Morgan, is that Stokes came to the defence of the two men after overhearing them being abused. He then allegedly saw that one of the aggressors was armed with a bottle and moved to defend himself.

Although some figures in the ECB are understood to have some sympathy for Stokes' actions, if the circumstances he has described are accurate, the fact that the two men have yet to come forward despite blanket media coverage of the incident will be a major concern to the player.

The footage provided to The Sun of the subsequent brawl outside Mbargo nightclub shows a man who closely resembles Stokes swinging punches at two men, one of whom can be heard dropping a bottle. In the video, men can be heard shouting: "Enough, Stokes."

It was confirmed by Andrew Strauss, the ECB director of England cricket, at the Ashes squad announcement on Wednesday, that Stokes had suffered a fractured finger in the incident.

As part of the ECB's internal disciplinary process, Stokes and Hales have been suspended on full pay pending further investigation, both by the ECB and the police, with Strauss referring the matter to the Cricket Discipline Commission, chaired by Tim O'Gorman.

In addition, Strauss will be interviewing all England players who were out that evening in the aftermath of their victory in the third ODI. In addition to Hales, the sole witness, those players are understood to include Jake Ball and James Anderson, who was in Bristol as a TV commentator.

On Wednesday, Trevor Bayliss, England's head coach, expressed his displeasure at the players going out late at night while midway through an international series, even though there is currently no curfew in place for the England squad.

"I have been with teams before and we have had curfews and that doesn't work either," Bayliss said. "Whichever way you go, a lot of the responsibility comes back on to the players. They are adults and they have to take responsibility. They are professionals."

As a consequence of the incident, the brewery Greene King, who last year signed a five-year deal with the ECB, have pulled an advert that aired regularly during the fourth ODI at The Oval.

A Greene King spokesman said: "Given the ongoing police investigation, we have decided to stop broadcasting the IPA cricket advert, which was filmed last year and features a number of England cricket players, including Ben Stokes."

Stokes and Hales missed the fourth ODI at The Oval on Wednesday through suspension and were not available for the final match of the English season, at the Ageas Bowl on Friday. England's next international fixture will be against Australia in the first Ashes Test on November 23.