The Suites Hotel in Knowsley was the location of a protest on the evening of Friday 10 February 2023. Sadly, the protest descended into acts of violence, criminal damage, and disorder.
The incident is subject to an ongoing Merseyside Police investigation, but here’s what we know so far.
What was known beforehand about the planned protest and the reasons for it?
In the week leading up to Friday 10 February 2023, a number of posts were circulating on social media regarding a planned protest at the Suites Hotel. Knowsley Council liaised closely with Merseyside Police to highlight the social media content. As the Council does not have any direct role in housing asylum seekers at the Hotel, Merseyside Police then took responsibility to assess the risks, plan provision at the protest, and work with Serco, who manage the Home Office contract at the Suites Hotel.
Early in the week leading up to the protest, a video had been circulated on social media which appeared to show a man talking to a schoolgirl in Kirkby. Immediately upon seeing this video, the Council highlighted it to Merseyside Police. A number of members of the public also raised their concerns with Merseyside Police. Initially, none of the people who were actually involved in the footage reported any such incident to Merseyside Police.
Merseyside Police Officers followed up the incident and were able to identify those involved in the footage – it was at that stage that a complaint was made to the Police, who duly investigated the circumstances and interviewed all parties. A 25-year old man was duly arrested in another part of the country on suspicion of a public order offence. He remains under investigation. The man who was arrested no longer resides in Merseyside.
It is understood that another complaint was received about the same individual. There have been no complaints of any other similar incidents to Merseyside Police at any time in the last year.
What inaccurate information is being shared?
As outlined above, rumours are circulating regarding a number of incidents involving girls and schools in the Kirkby and Knowsley Village area. Merseyside Police have confirmed that only one such incident (involving the one male referenced above) has been reported to them, and that this incident was followed up and investigated. Merseyside Police have also looked into other allegations referenced on social media and have found no evidence of any incidents or offences actually having been committed.
On 14 February 2023, a caller from Croxteth to a programme on GB News claimed that a “school in Knowsley Village has had to put netting up because the immigrants were standing looking through the fence at the kids and that’s a fact”. The recording of that call has been widely circulated on social media. The allegation is in fact completely untrue – no school in Knowsley Village or anywhere else in the local area has had to take such action.
The caller to GB News also claimed that “This has been going on months. People coming from the hotel, going to the skate park and trying to entice young girls with ale and different stuff.” Again, there is no evidence to back up that allegation. Merseyside Police have reviewed their calls for service and no calls or reports have ever been received regarding such claims.
There are also rumours of an incident which was “captured on CCTV” outside shops in Broad Lane in Kirkby. Given the rumours which are circulating, Merseyside Police investigated and again found no evidence to support any crimes having been committed.
If anyone has any concerns, they are asked to report them to Merseyside Police on 101 or via Merseyside Police’s website – www.merseyside.police.uk
Who organised the protest?
Merseyside Police are continuing to investigate who instigated the protest. If you have any information which might help with their enquiries, you can anonymously contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or by calling Merseyside Police on 101.
What happened on Friday 10 February 2023?
From around 6.30pm, Merseyside Police were facilitating a peaceful protest and counter protest at the Suites Hotel. These events had been widely publicised beforehand, and the two groups of protestors arrived on site and initially conducted themselves appropriately.
However, a short time later, a number of people who were not part of the original protest groups turned up. They came equipped with hammers and fireworks, and clearly therefore had no intention of protesting peacefully. Instead, these people were more interested in causing trouble through violence and intimidation without any thought, or care, for other members of the public or the Police Officers who were present.
As the evening wore on, missiles including lit fireworks were thrown at Police Officers and one of their vehicles was attacked by offenders, who used hammers to cause significant damage before setting it on fire.
Road closures became necessary in the area due to the level of disorder shown and for everyone’s safety.
During the incident, one Merseyside Police Officer and two members of the public received slight injuries.
The crowds eventually dispersed and roads were reopened in the early hours of Saturday 11 February. At no stage did anybody gain access to the Suites Hotel itself.
What action has been taken as a result of the incident at the Suites Hotel?
A total of 15 people aged between 13 and 54 have so far been arrested on suspicion of Violent Disorder. The Merseyside Police investigation is ongoing and anyone who has relevant information is being asked to share it with them.
To date, one man (aged 19 years and from Aigburth) has been charged with Violent Disorder and Assault by Beating of an Emergency Worker.
Partner agencies are working together to ensure that personal safety advice is shared with schools and the wider community.
A Merseyside Police presence remains at the scene and partner agencies are providing high visibility in the local area to provide reassurance and engage with the local community to once again build resilience and confidence as well as responding to misinformation which has been circulating in the local area and on social media.
Was the Council informed that asylum seekers would be accommodated at the Suites Hotel?
In January 2022, the Home Office gave Knowsley Council less than 48 hours’ notice of their intention to “temporarily” house a number of asylum seekers at The Suites Hotel in Kirkby. The Home Office advised that their intention was to use the Suites Hotel for this purpose for up to 12 months.
More than a year later, this temporary arrangement between the Hotel and the Home Office remains in place.
What is Knowsley Council’s involvement in the use of the Suites Hotel to house asylum seekers?
The Council had no role in deciding to use the Suites Hotel to house asylum seekers, and was not consulted by the Home Office before they took the decision. Since being advised of that decision only 48 hours before it was implemented, the Home Office has never consulted the Council about the continuing use of the Suites Hotel for his purpose.
The Council is not being paid to house asylum seekers at the Suites Hotel, and the operation at the Hotel is managed by Serco (a private company) under a contract with the Home Office.
Knowsley Council’s view is that the long-term use of a hotel to house asylum seekers is inappropriate. At the same, the Council also believes that asylum seekers are in need of support and understanding (for the reasons set out below).
Why do people seek asylum?
The Refugee Council defines an asylum seeker as “someone who has fled persecution in their homeland, has arrived in another country, made themselves known to the authorities and exercised the legal right to apply for asylum”. The right to seek asylum is a legal right which we all share.
Knowsley Council believes in supporting people who are fleeing persecution.
Why do people seek asylum in other countries?
People come to the UK and other countries seeking safety. “Asylum” is when a government accepts that a person’s home country is unable or unwilling to ensure their protection and allows them to remain in their country in order to stay safe. For example, this could be because a person is being persecuted by their home government/militia for their political activity, or because of their gender or sexual orientation.
One asylum seeker who recently arrived in Knowsley had to flee Iran as his life was in danger because he showed support for women’s rights – his friend had been executed for doing the same.
Another asylum seeker who recently arrived in Knowsley from Syria had been imprisoned for three months for assisting people who were affected by the ongoing civil war in his country.
Are local services impacted because asylum seekers are present in Knowsley?
The Home Office is responsible for managing the asylum process and supporting asylum seekers while they are having their claims heard. The Home Office has appointed private contractors (Serco) to manage the practical day to day support to the asylum seekers while Home Office officials review the evidence and make decisions about each individual’s right to remain in the UK. Council funding is not used to provide this support.
Asylum seekers are unable to have jobs or undertake voluntary work. Asylum seekers are also unable to claim benefits and have no rights to housing – they are instead allocated temporary accommodation.
While asylum seekers do have access to healthcare, there are 25 GP practices in Knowsley caring for a total of more than 170,000 registered patients and providing about 840,000 appointments each year. The number of asylum seekers in Knowsley currently stands at around 0.0028% of that patient population, and therefore has only a negligible impact on services.