Fifteen people have been arrested on suspicion of violent disorder after a protest outside a hotel housing asylum seekers in Knowsley on Friday night, Merseyside Police said.
Protesters massed outside the Suites Hotel in Ribblers Lane where asylum seekers had been given refug. A police van was set alight while some also hurled missiles amid the melee.
Those arrested were aged between 13 and 54, local police said.
Merseyside Police Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said: “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.
“Indeed, one of my officers was injured in the line of duty, as were a number of members of the public, and it is only through luck that no-one was more seriously injured or worse.
“A police van was also put of commission as a result of being set on fire.
“All of those arrested will now be questioned and we will continue to gather all evidence as part of this investigation and our officers are continuing to examine CCTV footage in a bid to identify anyone else involved.”
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.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called the behaviour of protesters “shameful and appalling”.
Mark Davies, head of communications and campaigns at the Refugee Council, said those who had participated in or encouraged Friday night’s protests had brought “shame on this country’s long and proud record” of helping those in need.
Ms Kennedy said police were aware of rumours on social media prior to the protest about an incident earlier in the week.
She said: “Detectives are investigating reports of an incident which occurred in Kirkby on Monday, February 6, when a man made inappropriate advances towards a teenage girl. This was reported by members of the public to police, but no victim was initially identified.
“Following inquiries, a man in his 20s was arrested on Thursday, February 9, 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.
“Social media speculation, misinformation and rumour can actually damage the outcome of investigations and cause unnecessary fear and consequent behaviour, so I would continue to ask people to be mindful of the damage that such actions can cause.
“We understand the concern that an incident can cause but I can assure you that the investigation is ongoing and we are doing everything we can to bring the offender to justice.”
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the “alleged behaviour of some asylum seekers” was never an excuse for violence.
“I condemn the appalling disorder in Knowsley last night,” she said.
“The alleged behaviour of some asylum seekers is never an excuse for violence and intimidation.”
Sunder Katwala, director of think tank British Future, said: “The violent disorder in Knowsley realises fears that asylum dispersal is becoming a flashpoint for extremist agitation.
“Defusing the risks requires both more dialogue with local communities and much more scrutiny of extreme groups operating both online and on the ground to stir up trouble.
“Both Twitter and Facebook are hosting groups and people who go well beyond political protest to celebrating the violence and encouraging intimidation.
“Twitter should rethink its decision to bring back Patriotic Alternative, who are using the platform to incite unruly protest.
“Politicians will be debating a new asylum Bill. It is their responsibility to get a grip on an orderly and humane asylum process.”
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