10:13, August 15 98 0 theguardian.com

2018-08-15 10:13:04
CPS defends handling of case against cricketer Ben Stokes

The Crown Prosecution Service has defended its handling of the high-profile case against the England cricketer Ben Stokes after a jury unanimously cleared him of affray.

Following six days of evidence and only two and a half hours of deliberations, the verdict allowed the 27-year-old former England vice-captain to walk free from Bristol crown court.

The CPS has faced criticism for its preparation of the case. Having initially brought a charge of affray against Stokes, the prosecutor, Nicholas Corsellis, then attempted to add two counts of assault to the indictment.

But the judge, Peter Blair QC, the recorder of Bristol, rejected the application at the beginning of the trial. He said it was “hard to see how the defence could have objected” if the new charges had been added in February, but Stokes’ legal team had prepared for a trial on an affray charge and should not be ambushed with a last-minute change.

The CPS was also criticised for not prosecuting Stokes’ teammate Alex Hales, who was seen on CCTV kicking one of the accused, Ryan Hale, in the head while he lay on the floor injured. Hales was questioned under caution but never arrested.

With the jury absent, Stephen Mooney, representing Hale, told the judge: “I struggle to understand how the crown, in adopting the stance they have, have come to the conclusion that overt acts of direct violence used by an individual to someone on the floor is not worthy of prosecution.”

Stokes was arrested in the early hours of 25 September last year after a night out with England teammates to celebrate a victory over the West Indies earlier in the day.

The court heard the incident described as “a sustained episode of significant violence” from Stokes, who had “lost control”. But Stokes’ lawyers told the jury he had “stepped in” to defend two gay men who were being verbally abused.

The CPS declined to say whether key charging decisions had been made at its London headquarters or locally in Bristol.

Even though affray is a relatively low-level offence, at one stage the case had been due to be prosecuted by Alison Morgan, first junior treasury counsel. Treasury counsel are appointed by the attorney general to lead in some of the most serious criminal cases.

A CPS spokesperson said Morgan was instructed after the initial charging decision, was sent the prosecution papers but then had to withdraw because of a “diary clash”. She did not attend any hearings in Bristol.

The spokesperson added: “The CPS keeps cases under continual review. We selected the charge of affray at the outset in accordance with the code for crown prosecutors. Upon further review we considered that additional assault charges would also be appropriate. The judge decided not to permit us to add these further charges. The original charge of affray adequately reflected the criminality of the case and we proceeded on that.

“The function of the Crown Prosecution Service is not to decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence but to make fair, independent and objective assessments about whether it is appropriate to present charges for a jury to consider. We respect the jury’s decision.”

Asked whether the CPS would be conducting a review of how the case was handled, the spokesperson said it would not be doing so.

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