Fifteen people have been arrested after members of an allegedly “far-right” protest and leftist “anti-fascist” counter-protesters clashed outside a migrant hotel over social media footage that appeared to show a migrant making sexual advances on an underage girl.
On Friday evening, violent scenes were seen outside the Suites Hotel, Knowsley in Merseyside, which like hotels across the country has been housing migrants free of charge amid the growing Channel boats crisis.
A police van was set on fire and a total of 15 people, including 13 men and two women, were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder. Police also reported that protesters had targeted them with makeshift missiles, with at least one officer being injured.
Responding to the violence, Merseyside Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said in a statement: “A number of individuals who turned up at the Suites Hotel last night were intent on using a planned protest to carry out violent and despicable behaviour. They turned up armed with hammers and fireworks to cause as much trouble as they could and their actions could have resulted in members of the public and police officers being seriously injured, or worse.”
She said that extra officers will be deployed in the area over the weekend to “prevent a repeat” and that a dispersal order will be in place over the next 48 hours “to ensure that [those] intent on such action are removed from the area, and if they return may be arrested.”
The protest outside the migrant hotel was allegedly organised by the Patriotic Alternative group — a claim it has denied — in response to a video posted on social media which appeared to show a migrant propositioning an underage girl for sex.
Local Labour MP George Howarth 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.”
Footage shared of the protesters on social media shows them denouncing the migrants as “nonces” and “paedophiles” and chanting “get them out”.
Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said: “Detectives are investigating reports of an incident which occurred in Kirkby on Monday, 6 February, when a man made inappropriate advances toward a teenage girl. This was reported by members of the public to police, but no victim was initially identified. Following enquiries, a man in his 20s, was arrested on Thursday, 9 February, in another part of the country on suspicion of a public order offence. A file was submitted to the CPS and on their advice he was released with no further action.
“I want to make it absolutely clear that this is very much an ongoing investigation, and we would urge anyone who witnessed this incident, or who has any information, which could help us bring the offender to justice, to come forward.”
While Merseyside Police said that the protest was “initially peaceful”, after a couple of hours it grew violent, forcing more officers to be called to the scene. According to The Guardian, “anti-fascist demonstrators” were also in attendance to stage a counter-protest, though they were apparently heavily outnumbered.
Among the leftist counter-protesters was the founder of the pro-open borders charity Care4Calais, Clare Mosely, who has previously courted controversy with an alleged affair with a Tunisian conman named Mohammed “Kimo” Bajjar despite her organisation supposedly having a strict policy of banning relationships between staff and migrants.
The leftist activist said: “I was really frightened for us, I was really frightened for the people in the hotel. These are people who have come from war zones. I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be for them.”
“The far-right people were very organised and very violent. All you could hear was fighting in every direction. Fireworks going off, banging, locks flying, smashing glass, and you could hear people shouting,” she claimed.
The issue of housing often illegal migrants in hotels across the country has become a hot-button political issue. Though Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that he will seek to end the scheme, which began in earnest during the lockdowns, the government has given no timetable as to when this will actually happen.
Demonstrating the scale of the issue, the number of migrants housed in hotels shot up from 2,577 in March of 2020 to a staggering 37,142 by September of last year. It has been estimated that the cost of the hotel scheme could be as much as £7 million per day, however as more migrants are continuing to land virtually unopposed this figure is only likely to rise.
Even prior to Friday the hotel migrant scheme has seen some violent outbursts, including a 2020 incident in Glasgow in which a Sudanese migrant went on a stabbing spree outside of his hotel, in which a police officer was critically injured.
In November, it was revealed that two boys had been raped and sexually assaulted in separate instances in a single hotel in East London that has been housing migrants while their asylum claims were processed.
Commenting on the outbreak of violence on Friday in Merseyside, Brexit leader Nigel Farage warned that the events are not likely to be a one-off, saying that “Knowsley is a grim portend of what is to come.”
Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka