Three people have been arrested after “deeply shocking” violent scenes outside a hotel where asylum seekers were staying in Merseyside on Friday.
Merseyside Police said they were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder and taken to police stations to be questioned, after protesters hurled missiles and damaged a police van.
Officers in Prescot, Knowsley, were dealing with two groups of protesters after a demonstration descended into chaos outside the Suites Hotel in Ribblers Lane.
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.
Clare Moseley, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said she was among 100 to 120 people from pro-migrant groups who went to the scene in reaction to the protest to show support for the asylum seekers.
She told the PA news agency: “I’m trying to get in touch with some of the poor men in that hotel, I can only imagine how frightened they are.
“It was like a war zone.”
Assistant Chief Constable Paul White said: “We will always respect the right to protest when these are peaceful, but the scenes tonight were completely unacceptable, putting those present, our officers and the wider community in danger.
“Thankfully we have not had any serious injuries reported up to this point, but for officers and police vehicles to be damaged in the course of their duty protecting the public is disgraceful.
“We have arrested some of those suspects and will continue without hesitation to review all and any evidence which comes in, through CCTV, images or other information you may have.”
The force said it had implemented a number of road closures on the East Lancs Road and urged motorists to avoid the area and those in the area to disperse.
Labour MP Sir George said: “I have referred an alleged incident posted on social media, which has triggered a demonstration outside the Suites Hotel, to Merseyside Police and Knowsley Council.
“Until the police have investigated the matter, it is too soon to jump to conclusions and the effort on the part of some to inflame the situation is emphatically wrong.
“If an offence has been committed, the police should deal with it appropriately through due process.
“In addition, the misinformation about refugees being feather-bedded is untrue and intended to paint a picture that does not at all represent the facts.
“The people of Knowsley are not bigots and are welcoming to people escaping from some of the most dangerous places in the world in search of a place of safety.
“Those demonstrating against refugees at this protest tonight do not represent this community.
“We are not like that and overwhelmingly behave with sympathy and kindness to others regardless of where they come from.”
Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell tweeted: “Deeply shocking and concerning scenes of violence in Knowsley this evening.
“Utterly unacceptable behaviour, putting officers and public in danger.
“I am monitoring the situation closely.
“There is absolutely no excuses for this.”
Knowsley Council leader Cllr Graham Morgan said he was “saddened and concerned” by the violent clashes outside the hotel.
He added: “The behaviour of those involved was totally unacceptable and has put safety of the local community, police officers and our emergency services on the scene, at risk.
“My message to the rest of our community is one of reassurance.
“This kind of behaviour is not welcome here and we will not let the wicked and mindless acts of a small minority destroy our community spirit and willingness to support others when in need.”
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.
“These are appalling scenes and our thoughts are with those staying at the hotel. This must be terrifying for them,” he said.
“All the evidence is that the majority of those who seek asylum in this country are refugees from places like Syria, Iran and Afghanistan who long to feel safe and secure in the UK.
“Those who encourage and take part in disorder like this bring shame on this country’s long and proud record of reaching out to support those in need wherever they come from.”