A man has been charged with common assault after a far-right group targeted Coventry hotels used by the government to shelter asylum seekers during the pandemic.
West Midlands’ police officers were called to reports of a disorder at the Coventry Hill hotel at 12.50pm on Saturday, reports The Guardian. “A man who works at the hotel was assaulted by two men as he encountered a group of people who were not staying there,” a spokesperson said. Two men were later arrested at the Royal Court hotel, two miles away, on suspicion of assault, and were taken into police custody. The rest of the group were escorted back to their minibus.
Officers confirmed on Sunday that a 30-year-old Warwickshire man had been charged with common assault. James White of Southam, has been bailed to appear at Coventry magistrates’ court on 22 October. There is no indication at this stage that White is a member of Britain First. The second man, 23, who was also arrested, was released without a charge.
Taiwo Owatemi, Coventry North West’s Labour MP, tweeted “I’m aware of this incident and have written to both the Home Office and West Mids Police for more information. Britain First does not represent the vast majority of Coventry. A hateful minority will not falter the strength and welcoming spirit of our local community.”
In recent days Britain First has entered multiple hotels across the country that are being used by the Home Office to accommodate asylum seekers during the pandemic. In one video, posted on social media, group members can be seen entering a hotel in Bromsgrove, near Birmingham, knocking on doors to ask residents where they come from and accuse them of wasting taxpayers’ money. Other similar videos by far-right organisations are circulating on YouTube, including one that shows asylum seekers being harassed outside their hotel in Newcastle. The Coventry Hill hotel is one of at least two hotels in the borough being used to shelter people seeking asylum. The city council has sought to use its powers to prevent the use of a third for the same purpose, according to the Coventry Observer.
On Friday, the Independent reported that the Home Office is “offering premises housing asylum seekers assistance with physical security, such as barriers and hoardings, if they have concerns or have been visited by protesters”. Britain First also appears to have mistakenly visited a hotel run by Camden council, in north London, providing shelter to rough sleepers under the separate “Covid protect” scheme. The Guardian understands that additional security precautions are not being considered there as the situation was handled swiftly by hotel security and staff.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, told the Guardian: “Every human being should be treated with dignity and compassion, and never more so when they are seeking help and support. We would urge [the] government to ensure the immediate safety of those who are homeless and in hotels, and to treat the harassment of people in them with the utmost seriousness. Too often people who are homeless are subject to hate and abuse, and it has to stop.”
A spokesman for the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said it was working with charity partners to put measures in place to prevent homeless people sheltering from Covid-19 in hotels from being targeted, “mistakenly or otherwise, by these rightwing groups”.
A government spokesperson said: “Efforts to fuel resentment towards asylum seekers and create community tension are completely unacceptable and all incidents at asylum accommodation sites are reported to the Home Office immediately. We then work with the provider to put in additional measures if required. We continually review the security at asylum accommodation sites with providers, who work closely with local police to ensure action is taken if someone tries to access a site.”