Irishman says 'hero' Ben Stokes saved him and pal from homophobic attack
An Irish gay man has claimed England cricketer Ben Stokes was defending him and a friend from homophobic abuse when he was arrested following an incident outside a Bristol nightclub.
Billy O'Connell, 20, who was born in Ireland and has been living in England for the past 10 years, and Kai Barry, 26, said in an interview with the Sun that Stokes came to their aid by standing up to threatening bullies.
Stokes was arrested in September on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm and released without charge, but remains under police investigation.
The 26-year-old, who also suffered a broken finger, will not fly out with the rest of England's Ashes squad to Australia on Saturday, having been suspended following the incident.
Barry and O'Connell claimed they met the all-rounder and his England team-mate Alex Hales in a nightclub on the evening in question and Stokes bought them drinks.
The pair said they had no idea they were cricketers.
It was reported that Stokes and Hales were later walking along the road near the pair, after leaving the nightclub, when Barry and O'Connell were subjected to homophobic abuse.
O'Connell told The Sun: "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."
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."
The pair claimed they had been unaware of the repercussions of the incident, only finding out when "a policeman came round this week", according to Barry.
O'Connell added: "Ben is a really nice guy and I hope he can still play for England in the Ashes. It would be awful (if) his career was ruined over this. He was just trying to help defend Kai."
Journalist and TV presenter Piers Morgan, a celebrity acquaintance of several cricketers, claimed at the time that the fight occurred after Stokes and Hales had defended two gay men from homophobic abuse.
Neil Fairbrother, Stokes' agent with International Sports Management, has said the star will offer a full explanation of his actions "when the time is right".
He has not been ruled out of the five-Test series in Australia, which starts on November 23, but the England and Wales Cricket Board will not consider him for selection until further notice as it awaits developments.