Double shooting murders part of what forms the make-up of Stokes the star.


Only Ben Stokes and his family can know what it feels like to spend 31 years sublimating the memory of an unconscionable horror. Only they can truly express how tragedy has shaped and shadowed their lives since.

Ultimately, only they can convey the pain of seeing the events of April 1988, still so raw for England's cricket talisman that he has not mentioned them in either of his two books, broadcast against their wishes to the outside world.

We learned this week, courtesy of The Sun tabloid newspaper's front page, that three years before Stokes was born, his half-brother and half-sister were shot dead in Christchurch by Richard Dunn, his mother Deb's former partner, in a fit of jealous rage. The wave of revulsion at the story's publication has been instant and overwhelming.


Several news outlets have refused even to repeat the facts out of respect for Stokes, who has described the journalism behind it as "despicable".

This seems an exercise in futility, given t the lid has already been blown. The murders were a matter of public record at the time in New Zealand, and now The Sun has joined the dots, there is hardly a soul in England or New Zealand not aware of the essential details.

Still, condemnation comes in torrents. Even David Yelland, once a Sun editor, has piled in on his former newspaper's alleged scurrility.

There were tales this week of the Stokes edition being binned en masse at Waterloo station, as well as calls for every Sun journalist to be banned from covering England cricket.

The outrage, echoed by everybody from Joe Root to Tom Harrison, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, neglects one undeniable point: that the revelations about Stokes' family history, irrespective of the frenzied debate over whether they satisfy the public interest test and the profound anguish they have caused his mother, do add to our understanding of what makes him such an extraordinary sporting figure.

Stokes is, as Sir Ian Botham has put it, a "once-in-a-generation cricketer". Who can tell how his singular temperament has been shaped by growing up against the backdrop of such shattering loss?

This is an acutely sensitive question. One regular observer of the England team tweeted: "If you're interested in anything about Ben Stokes today, be interested in what he did on July 14 at Lord's, or in what he did at Headingley. Everything you need to know is there."

It is an argument that chimes with the prevailing mood, seeing how proprietorial Stokes' fans feel about his 84 to seize World Cup glory or his 135 to rescue the third Ashes test, and how determined they are not to have those feats sullied by the disclosure of a tragedy that was not even his to tell.


But in the context of what we now know, the view that Stokes must remain defined solely by what he does on the field of play needs nuance. Such deeds do not exist in isolation.

One cannot say that "everything you need to know" about Sir Andy Murray is that he is a two-time Wimbledon champion, and that his traumatic recollections of the 1996 massacre at his Dunblane school are incidental to his psychological make-up.

Equally, one struggles to claim that "everything you need to know" about Sir Bobby Charlton is that he is Manchester United's greatest legend, without acknowledging that all he has achieved in football and in life is framed by his experience of seeing eight teammates perish in the Munich air disaster.

Sporting heroes do not spring fully-formed into the crucible of elite competition.

While Stokes has been heralded by Root as a freak of nature, he, like many other stars, is the product of his own complex circumstances. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, did not evolve seamlessly from backstreet kickabouts in Madeira to a career that has drawn global adoration. As became clear on ITV this week, he has carried the torment of losing his father, Jose Dinis Aveiro, to alcoholism when he was only 20.

Tragedies have life-long ramifications, while glories are fleeting. This is a concept central to any appreciation of a star such as Murray. He wins one major tournament, he moves on to the next. But that terrible day at Dunblane Primary School, where Thomas Hamilton shot 16 children and a teacher dead in a gym just moments before Murray was due to take a class there, has left a scar that can never fully be erased. For his first eight years on tour, it was tacitly understood that the subject was off limits. Only his tears in a BBC interview in 2013 — "you have no idea how tough something like that is" — bore out the depth of his agony.

Murray, of course, was able to address this most difficult of topics on his own terms, at the time of his choosing. Stokes was not afforded the same courtesy, and the ethical implications of that decision are likely to run and run. There is little point, though, in treating his tragedy as somehow extraneous to his path through life.

Everybody bears the scars of their past, while the public fascination exerted by the finest athletes demands that journalists mine their backgrounds in search of any explanation for their superhuman abilities.

The Stokes controversy marks the logical extension of that impulse.

You can question the timing and taste of the story, but there is no denying the significance of its substance, or its role in illuminating the resilience and courage that Stokes the sportsman has since made his stock in trade.