Men say arrested cricketer was defending them against homophobic abuse

Ben Stokes was released without charge, but remains under investigation

Men say arrested cricketer was defending them against homophobic abuse

File photo of England cricketer Ben Stokes | Image: Tim Goode/PA Wire/PA Images

Two gay men say England cricketer Ben Stokes was defending them from homophobic abuse when he was allegedly caught on CCTV punching a man outside a Bristol nightclub.

Kai Barry (26) and Billy O'Connell (20) have told The Sun the all-rounder was "a real hero".

Mr O'Connell said: "We were so grateful to Ben for stepping in to help. He was a real hero. Kai feared he could be attacked. If Ben hadn't intervened it could have been a lot worse for us."

Mr Barry added: "I'm not a fighter and we didn't want a fight. We could've been in real trouble. Ben was a real gentleman."

Stokes (26) was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm after the incident outside the Mbargo nightclub in September.

He was released without charge, but remains under police investigation.

A 27-year-old man suffered minor facial injuries and was taken to Bristol Royal Infirmary for treatment.

Barry and O'Connell claimed they met Stokes, who suffered a broken finger, and his England team-mate Alex Hales in a nightclub.

They said Stokes bought them drinks and they had no idea they were international cricketers.

In Britain, actual bodily harm carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail and/or a fine, depending on the seriousness of the offence.

Detectives recently made a fresh appeal for witnesses to the incident to come forward to assist them in their investigations.

Stokes's agent, Neil Fairbrother, recently said his client will give a "full explanation" of his side of the incident "when the time is right".

Both Stokes and Hales, who has not been charged, were suspended by England, but were awarded new contracts for 2017/18, meaning they are both available for international cricket.