On Friday 10 February 2023, a protest against the housing of asylum seekers at the Suites Hotel in Kirkby descended into acts of violence, criminal damage, and disorder.
Those involved in the disorder on the evening equated to a small minority of people, who do not represent Knowsley and its residents.
Following the incident, a large amount of misinformation has been and continues to be circulated online. As a result, some members of the community are concerned about safety and tensions in the area.
Knowsley Council and its partners are working to reassure the community and ensure that people have access to factual information to allay any concerns.
To help with this, we have set out what we know so far, to set the record straight on some of the rumours and misinformation that is being spread.
On Friday 10 February 2023, an initially peaceful protest and counter protest outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley descended into acts of violence, criminal damage, and disorder.
Around 400-500 people were present on the evening. These included members of “far right” and “anti-fascist” groups and there were also members of the local community. Some of those present arrived armed with fireworks and weapons which shows that they were clearly intent on causing disorder from the outset.
Since then, at least 15 people have been arrested, 1 person charged and remanded to prison, with more arrests and charges being pursued.
Anyone with information or images / footage which could assist Police with their enquiries should contact @MerPolCC on social media or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 quoting reference 23000121093.
Leading up to the incident
The initial protest was called by groups wishing to protest against the use of the Suites Hotel as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers (similar protests have been arranged in other parts of the country and continue to take place).
Prior to the protest, some “far right” groups had circulated leaflets in the Kirkby area to call on local people to support their protest.
In addition, a substantial amount of negative information was circulated online, including numerous suggestions that individuals residing at the Suites Hotel had been approaching young girls and children in the local community. These included allegations of sexual assault and abduction. At the time, Merseyside Police confirmed that, despite such allegations and speculation, criminal offences could not be substantiated.
In the week leading up to the protest, a particular video was circulated through social media which appeared to show a male, who was allegedly resident at the Suites Hotel, talking to a schoolgirl in Kirkby. Immediately upon seeing that footage, the Council and a number of members of the public reported it to Merseyside Police.
Police Officers were able to identify a suspect. A 25-year-old man was subsequently arrested in connection with the offence in another part of the country on suspicion of a public order offence. He remains under investigation and no longer resides in Merseyside.
This video was circulated widely online and also in some mainstream media – it undoubtedly raised community tensions in the run up to the protest.
Misinformation on social media
Social media has played a large part in circulating misinformation, speculation, and rumour around the events leading up to and following the incident on 10 February 2023.
Social media can often be used to distort facts and some of the allegations being made are malicious.
It has been claimed online that there have been a number of incidents (aside from the one filmed and shared immediately prior the protest as discussed above) where young people have been approached by asylum seekers and in some cases, supplied with alcohol.
Many of these alleged incidents were not reported to Merseyside Police. Where they have been reported, Merseyside Police has investigated and found no evidence to support these allegations. Merseyside Police will always investigate allegations made – no incident is ignored. If you think something untoward has happened, please report it to the police and not on social media.
We’re also aware of online claims that fencing has had to be erected around schools in Kirkby and Knowsley Village due to issues with asylum seekers “looking through fences at children.” The local schools have all confirmed that no such measures have been introduced and Merseyside Police have not received any calls or reports regarding such concerns.
Another claim related to an alleged incident involving asylum seekers attempting to ‘abduct’ a young child outside Broad Lane shops in Kirkby and that the incident was captured on CCTV. Merseyside Police investigated this rumour and also visited the shop in question where they found no evidence of an attempted child abduction.
The circulation of this misinformation has coincided with an increase in people openly sharing racist, prejudiced and harmful views online and in the community. There can never be an excuse for violence or racism in any form. It divides the community, increases tensions and puts innocent people at real risk of harm.
Reports of hate crime in the local area have increased in recent weeks with some community members reporting feeling unsettled and unsafe.
It is important that people know that they are not alone – help and support is available from a range of agencies, including Stop Hate UK on 0800 138 1625 or via www.stophateuk.org.uk.
The council and partners will continue to share factual information to counteract misinformation online.
We all have a part to play in stopping the circulation of misinformation. Rumours and allegations put innocent people in harm’s way and you should view allegations on social media and the internet sceptically.
People are advised not to re-post or re-share information which cannot be established as fact or could be likely to cause offence or harm.
The use of the Suites Hotel
The Home Office has been using the Suites Hotel as temporary accommodation for asylum seekers since January 2022.
The council has no role in deciding to use the Suites Hotel in this way and the operation at the hotel is managed by Serco (a private company contracted by the Home Office).
The Home Office initially advised that the hotel would be used for a period of up to 12 months – to date, this arrangement – between the owners of the hotel and the Home Office – remains in place.
Who is living at The Suites Hotel?
The people living at the Suites Hotel are male asylum seekers of varying ages – all of whom have travelled to the UK and applied to the Home Office for permission to remain, for reasons of safety. Many have travelled to the UK as they have friends or family already living here.
These are people who may have had to flee their home countries because of life-threatening situations or danger due to their religion, their sexuality, and/or their opposition to the political regime in their home countries.
They have left behind family, friends, jobs, and possessions and have been placed in temporary accommodation by the Home Office whilst they assess their applications and make a decision on whether they can stay in this country.
The Home Office states that it will aim to assess applications for asylum within six months but the current backlog of claims across the country means that waiting times are much longer than this, with many applications taking more than a year or two years to be processed.
Until a decision is made by the Home Office on an asylum seeker’s application, the individual is unable to get a job, undertake voluntary work, or claim any benefits.
Asylum seekers also have no right to permanent housing and are instead only allocated temporary accommodation like that in the Suites Hotel.
Many of these individuals have suffered significant trauma and violence in their own country and are mentally and physically scarred from their experiences.
A gentleman currently living at The Suites Hotel fled his home country of Iran in fear of his life. He had been involved in a demonstration to champion the rights of women and girls in the country and had actually witnessed his friend /colleague – who was doing the same thing – shot dead. He feared for his life if he remained.
Another resident at The Suites had worked for many years supporting the British military in his home country of Afghanistan. When British troops withdrew from the country, his safety was at risk. He managed to escape and fled to England seeking asylum from the country he had supported for many years.
What support do the asylum seekers receive?
Serco is responsible for the welfare of asylum seekers at the Suites Hotel. Asylum seekers are also entitled to access healthcare support when necessary.
Those people currently living in the Suites Hotel – where food is provided – receive just £9.10 per week from the Government to cover all other living costs.
Voluntary organisation SHARe KNOWSLEY is also offering some general welfare advice and support to