The back story… and its backlash
A story in the British tabloid ‘Sun’ about Ben Stokes’ family when it was in New Zealand, from well before the birth of the future England all-rounder, has got the country’s cricket establishment worked up. The World Cup and Ashes star has called the story “immoral” and “despicable” and got support from team-mates such as Joe Root as well as former captain Michael Vaughan and chief executive of England and Wales Cricket Board Tom Harrison.
What’s the story
The story in ‘Sun’ has Richard Dunn, ex-husband of Ben’s mother Debbie, shooting their daughter Tracey, eight, and Andrew, four, before turning the gun on himself. The incident took place in 1988, three years before Ben was born. Dunn was jobless at that time and the pair had split. The report said he acted out of jealousy. “Dunn had weekend custody of the children and shot them both dead before turning the gun on himself in April 1988.”
He was apparently angry that Debbie was in a relationship with rugby coach Gerard Stokes, Ben’s biological father.
A family source revealed that Debbie had “something to live for” after the tragedy with the birth of Ben. The report quotes Jacqui Dunn, Dunn’s daughter from a previous marriage. “I couldn’t believe Dad would do such a thing. It was just horrible. Deb was so angry and traumatised she kicked the coffin at his funeral and I’ve never seen or heard from her since. And I had absolutely no idea she’s had another son who became an England cricket star,” she said.
Debbie and Gerard moved to the UK with Ben when he was 12 after his father landed a job with Workington Town rugby league club in Cumbria, the report added.
Though the incident was front-page news in New Zealand at that time, Ben himself has never spoken about the events and hardly anyone in England knew about it.
Extremely painful: Stokes
“Today the Sun has seen fit to publish extremely painful, sensitive and personal details concerning events in the private lives of my family, going back more than 31 years,” Stokes wrote on Twitter. “It is hard to find words that adequately describe such low and despicable behaviour, disguised as journalism. I cannot conceive of anything more immoral, heartless or contemptuous to the feelings and circumstances of my family.” He called the story “the lowest form of journalism, focused only on chasing sales”.
“To use my name as an excuse to shatter the privacy and private lives of – in particular – my parents is utterly disgusting,” Stokes wrote.
He alleged that ‘Sun’ sent a reporter to his parents’ home in New Zealand “out of the blue” to ask them about the tragedy, taking them aback. The cricketer said “for more than three decades, my family has worked hard to deal with the private trauma inevitably associated with these events and has taken great care to keep private what were deeply personal and traumatic events.”
Alleging that the article contained “serious inaccuracies”, Stokes added “I will not allow my public profile to be used as an excuse to invade the rights of my parents, my wife, my children or other family members.
Support from the sporting community
Root and Vaughan re-tweeted Stokes’s Twitter statement while Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford said on the micro-blogging site: “Disappointing to see this. @benstokes38 has been huge for sport this summer. He and his family deserve better,” The ECB also came out to slam the report as Harrison released a statement on the matter.
“We, like the wider sporting world, are disgusted and appalled at the actions taken in revealing the tragic events from Ben’s past. We are saddened that an intrusion of this magnitude was deemed necessary in order to sell newspapers or secure clicks. Ben’s exploits this summer have cemented his place in cricket’s history — we are sure the whole sport, and the country, stands behind him in support,” the ECB chief said.
The tabloid claimed details of the story were provided by a member of Stokes’s family and the cricketer or his representative never asked the paper to not publish the article. “The Sun has sympathy for Ben Stokes and his mother but it is only right to point out the story was told with the cooperation of a family member who supplied details and posed for pictures. The tragedy is a matter of public record and was subject of front-page publicity in New Zealand at the time,” a spokeswoman for the paper said.