Mobilising the mob: How far-right fuelled asylum hotel riot with malicious rumour and misinformation

On 7 February, a 30-second video started spreading on social media. It showed a man, who said he was 25, asking a schoolgirl for her phone number.

“I’m only 15,” the girl told him. “You don’t do that in this country, you go to jail.”

The footage was seized upon by far-right activists to claim the man was an asylum seeker and present refugees as a sexual threat to white women.

One figure with almost 23,000 followers on Telegram shared it with the caption: “Hotels across the country are filled with the same mindset third world scum.”

In one of many similar posts, a white supremacist wrote to more than 16,000 Telegram followers that the man was a “migrant” who “propositioned” the girl, adding: “Men like this are being sent to towns and cities all over the UK.”

Police have not established whether the man in the footage is an asylum seeker, or if he lives in the Merseyside area, and say that local concerns have been fuelled by “misinformation and rumour”.

But the events that followed culminated with a mob clashing with police and pro-refugee protesters outside a hotel housing migrants in Knowsley.

Lit fireworks were thrown at officers while a police van was smashed by protesters armed with hammers, before being set alight in violent scenes that sparked condemnation from the home secretary.

As the police probe into the disorder continues,The Independent has investigated the build-up to the riot, which broke out three months after a far-right terror attack which targeted a migrant processing centre in Dover.

Small boat crossings in the English Channel have become a focus for extremist groups, with nationalists finding and filming hotels housing asylum seekers regularly since 2020.

The Suites Hotel in Knowsley was publicised by Britain First on 23 January, with the group posting a video on Telegram and other social media channels claiming it was “filled with working-age illegal immigrant men”.

Then on 4 February, the white nationalist Patriotic Alternative group staged a similar stunt, protesting outside the hotel with a banner reading: “Europe belongs to the European.”

A post on Telegram said its members then posted more than 200 leaflets in the local area, emblazoned with large writing saying: “5 star hotels for migrants whilst Brits freeze.”

The Suites Hotel was already known locally for housing asylum seekers and had appeared on social media in lists of hotels used by the Home Office. One of those it was mentioned on was a Facebook page with more than 10,000 members called “Hotels Housing Illegals”.

But anger ignited after the hotel was linked, without proof, to the footage of the teenage girl being harassed.

Protesters who became violent outside a hotel housing asylum seekers in Merseyside were condemned by police and MPs

As the video continued to spread on far-right networks and among concerned locals, a local newspaper reported on a police investigation into the video.

An article published on the morning of 8 February said police were “still looking to establish the circumstances” of the incident, in Kirkby, and wanted to speak to the girl who filmed it.

When the story was shared on the newspaper’s Facebook page, it received hundreds of comments, including dozens mentioning the Suites Hotel.

One woman claimed she saw the man involved “walking back towards there”, while another said that she had “seen him with my eyes … definitely 100% him”.

A police van was destroyed during the protest outside the hotel

Britain First, seen at a protest at the Coventry Hill Hotel in August 2020, are among the groups that frequently target hotels used for asylum seekers

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