Fifteen people, including a 13-year-old boy, have been arrested after a police van was set alight and fireworks were thrown at officers during a protest outside a hotel housing asylum seekers.
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 outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley on Friday night, 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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”