Riot ‘like a warzone’ outside Merseyside asylum seeker hotel after anti-migrant protest

‘It was like a warzone’, says one woman present

Matt Mathers
Saturday 11 February 2023 12:03 GMT
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A police van was set ablaze and officers were pelted with missiles during violent clashes between protesters outside a hotel providing refuge for asylum seekers in Merseyside.

Three people have been arrested on suspicion of violent disorder following clashes between pro and anti-migrant groups near the Suites Hotel on Ribbers Lane, Knowsley on Friday evening.

Merseyside Police said they had initially been dealing with a peaceful protest and counter-protest outside the hotel before some of those present reportedly started hurling missiles.

Clare Moseley, the founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said she was among 100 to 120 people from pro-migrant groups who went to the hotel after hearing there would be a protest against asylum seekers.

Ms Moseley, 52, who founded the charity in 2015, said the scenes that followed were “really shocking” and have left her worried for the safety of the asylum seekers.

She said she arrived at about 8.15pm and police had separated the protesters into their two respective groups, before violence erupted.

“Somebody said that one of the (opposing) protesters had got on top of the police van,” Ms Moseley said.

“And then next thing you know somebody says they’ve set the police van on fire! “And you looked and you could see fire coming out of the window of the police van.”

Merseyside Police are seen in riot gear outside the hotel
Merseyside Police are seen in riot gear outside the hotel

She added: “And you think, how on earth could they have got past the police cordon, got to the police van, got on top of it? There was a lot of police there.

“It was like a war zone”.

Multiple asylum seeker advocacy groups accused protesters of being affiliated with the far right.

Refugee Action chief executive Tim Naor Hilton wrote on Twitter: "If you’re part of a baying mob outside a hotel where refugees live then you’re the far right...even if you don’t like being called that."

Crowds gather near hotel
Crowds gather near hotel ((Josh Robinson/PA))

Care4Calais also suggested the protest had been organised by the “far-right”.

One man staying at the hotel, who did not want to be named, told how he and other people in the hotel were left terrified by the scenes outside.

"It was burning and everybody in the world was praying,” he said.

"People are crying and people are suffering from all angles. We come from different lifestyles so it doesn’t surprise me to see a vehicle burning."

The man, from East Africa, said he had been staying in the hotel for seven months."People have been welcoming here,” he said,

On Saturday morning temporary barriers were in place across the entrance to the Suites Hotel in Ribblers Lane, Knowsley, and security was operating a gate.

Part of the road and fencing outside the hotel appeared burnt but a police van seen on fire during the protest had been removed.

Paving bricks in a section of the pavement were loose and there was some broken glass on the ground.

A police van can be seen on fire
A police van can be seen on fire (PA Media)

The violent scenes have been condemned by local politicians. Knowsley MP Sir George Howarth said the demonstration was triggered by "an alleged incident on social media" and criticised misinformation claiming refugees were "feather-bedded" inside.

Labour MP Sir George said: "I have referred an alleged incident posted on social media, which has triggered a demonstration outside the Suites Hotel, to Merseyside Police and Knowsley Council.

"Until the police have investigated the matter, it is too soon to jump to conclusions and the effort on the part of some to inflame the situation is emphatically wrong.”

Merseyside Police said it was sending additional officers to the area to ensure the safety of those staying at the hotel and that it would continue gathering evidence to establish the full details of what happened.

Assistant chief constable Paul White said: “We will always respect the right to protest when these are peaceful, but the scenes [on Friday] were completely unacceptable, putting those present, our officers and the wider community in danger.

“Thankfully we have not had any serious injuries reported up to this point, but for officers and police vehicles to be damaged in the course of their duty protecting the public is disgraceful.

“We have arrested some of those suspects and will continue without hesitation to review all and any evidence which comes in, through CCTV, images or other information you may have.

“I would also like to strongly remind not to post comments, footage or information on our channels but instead to pass it directly to officers via our social media desk @MerPolCC on Twitter or ‘Merseyside Police Contact Centre’ on Facebook with reference 1149.

“We will act swiftly upon all information given to identify any further offences and put those involved before the courts.”

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