England cricketer Ben Stokes has pleaded not guilty to affray following a fight outside a Bristol nightclub.
The 26-year-old – who missed the Ashes after being suspended from playing for England – took to the dock and denied the charge in front of a packed courtroom.
England’s best player will now be tried at crown court. If found guilty, he could face a maximum prison sentence of three years.
Ryan Ali, 28, and Ryan Hale, 26, also pleaded not guilty to the same charge.
Flanked by his co-defendants in the dock, Stokes showed no emotion as he entered his plea.
Earlier in the morning, Stokes, wearing a blue suit and white shirt, walked through a throng of press and photographers as he made his way inside Bristol Magistrates’ Court.
He spoke only to confirm his full name, date of birth, address, nationality and to enter his plea.
Ali and Hale also pleaded not guilty on the grounds of ‘self-defence and defence of another’.
All three defendants elected to have their trial heard at crown court. They will appear before a judge at Bristol Crown Court on March 12.
District Judge Simon Cooper said: ‘From what I’ve seen, heard and read, this was an incident of sustained violence in the area of the nighttime economy in Bristol.
The 26-year-old all-rounder, who was charged with affray in January over an incident outside a Bristol night club late last year, has not played for England since being arrested in September
The 26-year-old took to the dock and denied the charge in front of a packed courtroom
‘All had been drinking, weapons were involved, significant injury was caused to one of the people.
‘The matter does fall within the top level of my sentencing guidelines and on pleas of not guilty I’m satisfied that the likely sentence for at least one of these alleged participants is a sentence well in excess of this court’s sentencing powers for a charge of affray.
‘I note there is considerable national interest in the matter.’
Addressing the defendants directly, the judge added: ‘Your trial will take place in the crown court sitting at Bristol on March 12.
‘You are placed on unconditional bail and have a legal duty to surrender to that court in due time.’
In a statement released shortly after he was charged, Stokes said he welcomes the opportunity to give his account of what happened and ‘clear my name’.
Ben Stokes pleaded not guilty in court to affray following a fight outside a Bristol nightclub
It is alleged a 27-year-old man suffered a fractured eye socket in the incident involving Stokes (pictured), at which fellow England cricketer Alex Hales was also present
Stokes (pictured) walked through a throng of press and photographers as he made his way inside Bristol Magistrates’ Court to face charges alongside Ryan Ali, 28, and Ryan Hale, 26
It follows a fight in the Clifton Triangle area of Bristol during the early hours of September 25 – several hours after England had played against the West Indies.
It is alleged a 27-year-old man suffered a fractured eye socket in the incident, at which fellow England cricketer Alex Hales was also present.
The charge of affray is made under the Public Order Act 1986 and effectively relates to fighting in public.
It carries a maximum penalty when tried on indictment – in the Crown Court – of up to three years in prison.
Stokes is not expected to join up with his England teammates in New Zealand for the rest of the one-day series, which ends on March 9.
The test series begins on March 22, which is ten days after Stokes’ trial is set to begin on March 12.
Stokes is court after a fight in the Clifton Triangle area of Bristol during the early hours of September 25 – several hours after England had played against the West Indies
England’s best player will now be tried at crown court at a later date. If found guilty, he could face a maximum prison sentence of three years
The 26-year-old – who missed the Ashes after being suspended from playing for England – is accused of affray with two other men
Without Stokes, England lost the Ashes to Australia 4-0.
While England were in Australia, Stokes played a few games for Canterbury Kings during a month-long spell in New Zealand before returning home to England.
Stokes could make his England return in the one-day series against New Zealand which begins on February 25 after being included in a 15-man squad.
He is due to play in the Indian Premier League after being sold for £1.4 million to the Rajasthan Royals.
He will find out today whether he will be able to ride to England’s rescue as they limp towards their second tour of a demanding winter.
While England were in Australia, Stokes played a few games for Canterbury Kings during a month-long spell in New Zealand (seen arriving) before returning home to England
A timeline of the Ben Stokes arrest
Sep 25, 2017: Stokes is involved in an incident near Bristol’s Mbargo club which left another man needing hospital treatment. Stokes is arrested and released under investigation.
Sep 27: England include Stokes in Ashes squad, even though he has a minor finger fracture on his right hand. Footage is released which allegedly shows the incident of the pair from two days earlier.
Sep 28: The ECB announces that Stokes and Alex Hales, who was present with Stokes, will not be considered for selection until further notice.
Oct 28: England fly out to Australia for the Ashes without Stokes.
Nov 29: Stokes arrives in New Zealand to play for Canterbury Kings.
Nov 29: Avon & Somerset Police say they have completed investigation and have sent findings to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Dec 4: Announced Hales will not face criminal charges. ECB say he is available for selection.
Dec 6: Stokes named in one-day squad to face Australia.
Dec 23: Stokes ends spell with Canterbury and returns to England.
Jan 11, 2018: Stokes named in Test to face New Zealand in March and April.
Jan 15: Stokes charged with affray.