UK police said Saturday they have arrested 15 people including one child after fireworks were thrown and a police car set on fire at an anti-immigration demonstration outside a hotel housing asylum seekers near Liverpool.
Merseyside Police said that “15 people have so far been arrested following violent disorder” in the Knowsley area in northwestern England, after initially reporting three arrests.
Police said “missiles including lit fireworks were thrown at officers and one of our police vans was attacked by offenders, using hammers before setting it on fire” during clashes outside The Suites Hotel.
One officer and two members of the public received slight injuries, police said.
The protest came amid heightened tensions as record numbers of migrants are crossing the Channel in small boats, prompting the Conservative government to come up with a controversial plan to send such asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Interior minister Suella Braverman condemned the “appalling disorder” in a tweet, adding that the “alleged behaviour of some asylum seekers is never an excuse for violence and intimidation”.
Police said those arrested ranged in age from 13 to 54 years, and included two women. They said they were examining footage to identify others.
Asylum seeker advocacy groups said the protesters were affiliated to far-right groups, while it was unclear who was behind the violence.
Police said that a group of troublemakers invaded a planned protest by another group in order to “carry out violent and despicable behaviour”.
The Home Office has been using the hotel to temporarily house asylum seekers since last year, according to local media.
The violence broke out as anti-immigration protesters crashed a demonstration outside the hotel by activists voicing solidarity with asylum seekers.
The anti-migrant protesters shouted slogans such as “Get them out,” said the Merseyside Pensioners Association, whose activists were holding placards saying “Refugees welcome”.
Claire Mosely, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, who was also at the scene, told Sky News that protesters “got to the police van and they set it on fire and it actually broke into a really big fire and exploded.”
“Then they broke through again and they started fighting with the police,” Mosely said. “I was really shocked… how quickly it got worse.”
The protest was fuelled by “rumours and misinformation” in social media following an incident last week, police said.
A man in his 20s was arrested and released with no action after reports “inappropriate advances” were made to a 15-year-old girl in the Knowsley area, police added.
They said the investigation was ongoing and asked for witnesses to come forward.
“Violence is not the way to resolve this and we know that those involved in the violent activity last night used this as an excuse to commit violence and intimidate members of the public,” police said.
Hope Not Hate, a group which campaigns against racism, said the protest took place “in a context of swelling anti-migrant hatred”.
White nationalist group Patriotic Alternative denied it was the organiser, after holding a protest outside the hotel last week and leafleting locally.
One of its campaigners posted a video showing he was at the scene on Friday, however.
“Far-right groups like Britain First (BF) and Patriotic Alternative (PA) had made visits to the hotel in recent weeks, although the protest appears to have been largely locally-driven, rather than organised by far-right groups outside the area,” Hope not Hate said.
Chantelle Lunt, chair of the Merseyside Alliance for Racial Equality, tweeted that the protest took place in one of the “poorest areas in the UK” where far-right activist Tommy Robinson campaigned in 2019.