Home Secretary Suella Braverman has condemned disorder at a protest in Merseyside, adding “alleged behaviour of some asylum seekers is never an excuse for violence”.
Fifteen people, including a 13-year-old boy, were arrested after violence erupted during a demonstration outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley, which houses asylum seekers, on Friday night.
Ms Braverman posted on Twitter: “I condemn the appalling disorder in Knowsley last night.
“Thank you to @MerseyPolice officers for keeping everyone safe.”
Chief Constable Serena Kennedy said that prior to the protest “rumours and misinformation” had been circulated on social media following reports of an incident in Kirkby on Monday where a man made inappropriate advances towards a teenage girl.
She said: “Following inquiries, a man in his 20s was arrested on Thursday 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.”
She added: “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, who have a right to live their lives in peace and without fear.”
Thirteen men and two women, aged between 13 and 54 and mainly from the Knowsley area, are being questioned on suspicion of violent disorder after the demonstration, a spokesman for Merseyside Police said.
Lit fireworks were thrown at officers and a police van was attacked by protesters using hammers and then set alight, the spokesman said.
On Saturday, asylum seeker Ahmed, who did not want to give his second name, said he had watched the protest from the window of the hotel.
The teacher, who came to the country one month ago from Egypt, said: “I was afraid. We came to the UK for safety.”
“Everyone should support Merseyside Police in dealing with extremism and violence.
“The Home Secretary is wrong to dismiss far right threats for political reasons.
“Instead she should be championing vigilance against all kinds of extremism.”
Alan Marsden, 59, from Stockbridge Village, told the PA news agency he attended the protest after seeing the allegations “on TikTok and online” but left when it became clear it was not peaceful.
He said: “It was bad. Kids with masks and balaclavas on turned up. There were 300 or 400 people here.
On Saturday, police remained outside the hotel, which has been used to accommodate asylum seekers since January 2022.
Knowsley MP Sir George Howarth said: “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.”
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 PA: “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.”
Knowsley Council leader Graham Morgan said he was “saddened and concerned” by the violent clashes outside the hotel.
A dispersal order has been put in place in the area for 48 hours, police said.
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The scenes outside the hotel and violence toward police officers last night by a group of people in Merseyside were totally unacceptable.
“We are working closely with Merseyside Police and partners on the ground to ensure the safety of those in our care and the wider community.”