Racist far-right violence in Knowsley and carefully crafted responses from police, politicians and media

On Friday evening (10th February 2023) an organised mob of violent far-right racist thugs went to Suites hotel in Knowsley, Merseyside where asylum seekers and refugees are resident.  The mob was planned in advance by extremist political groups. 

Merseyside Police chose not to take any action to stop the mob organising and gathering, and did not act on the night until the mob were violent toward police.  Those operational decisions contrasted starkly with police actions against environmental protesters who are routinely arrested in advance of any protest if police think they could be planning action, and differed considerably from police tactics against a vigil on Clapham Common, London for a murdered woman whereat police beat and arrested peaceful attendees under the pretext of Covid restrictions.

Members and supporters of volunteer-run refugee charity Care4Calais attended a peaceful gathering at the hotel as a show of solidarity with the residents.  A Care4Calais volunteer published an account of the mob’s behaviour: Far right riots at Liverpool hotel.

As the far right arrived it seemed huge numbers had been shipped in from out of town.  There were a large squad of police, but with sheer weight of numbers and conspicuously good organisation, they broke through police lines and reached a van.  They attacked and ransacked the van, and one thug clambered onto its roof before the mob set it on fire.  We became deeply concerned for our own safety and that of the refugees.  It seemed all hell was breaking loose: shouting, fireworks being thrown, more fires lit, and then what seemed like the burning van exploding.  As the mob advanced on the hotel, we were surrounded on three sides, and it became evident the police may not have enough resources to protect us from attack; we desperately barricaded the gates with any debris we could find.  We are still here as I write.”

Police account
Knowsley is policed by Merseyside Police.  The police force issued short statements during the violence and a summary statement on 11th February 2023.  The latter statement was intended as an account of the violence, an update on arrests and ensuing police action, and a description of the intent of people who took part. 

This statement was composed carefully, partly to dissuade criticism of the police and partly to ensure compliance with pervasive political perspectives of not criticising racist far-right ideology.

It began by failing to differentiate between intent of the mob of racist far-right thugs and intent of the peaceful people offering solidarity and support to residents of the hotel: “Officers were facilitating a peaceful protest and counter protest.”  It then chose to apportion blame for violence to only a subgroup of the mob: A short while later a number of people, who were not part of the original protest group, turned up, and it is clear that they were only interested in causing trouble through violence.”

There was deliberate direction of information by police in the two sentences quoted above

  • Equivalence of the mob and peaceful supporters of the residents of the hotel
  • Separation of intent and behaviour between “original protest group” and “a number of people
  • A number of people” hides the number

The “number of people” were the organisers of the event.  It is clear police wanted to excuse the mob’s intent and were keen to depict majority of attendees as local people with nonviolent intent. 

A quote from Merseyside Police Chief Constable Serena Kennedy stressed the chosen depiction of the event and the absolution of the intent of the majority of the mob.  She said “a number of individuals who turned up at the Suites Hotel last night were intent on using a planned protest to carry out violent and despicable behaviour.”  “A number of individuals” was purposefully vague; it could mean 99% or 1% of the total number.  The planned protest and the actions of the “number of individuals” were the same thing but Kennedy wanted to legitimise the protest by apportioning blame to a small part thereof – the “number.”

Police statement reported that “missiles including lit fireworks were thrown at officers and one of our police vans was attacked by offenders, using hammers before setting it on fire” without saying whether it was “protest” or “counter protest” that was responsible, and ended its account of the event by saying “the crowds dispersed” with no reference to the fact that the mob was told to leave by police and the “counter protest” was able to leave later when it was safe to do so.

Most of Kennedy’s contribution to the police statement discussed an alleged incident involving a resident of the hotel and one or more teenage girls.  She said “we [Merseyside Police] understand that prior to this happening last night there were rumours, and misinformation, being circulated on social media following an incident earlier in the week.  I am mindful of the risks that rumour and speculation bring and want to reassure the public that we are aware of an incident which happened at the beginning of the week and an investigation is ongoing.”  If there was “misinformation” why is “an investigation ongoing?”

She continued, at length

Detectives are investigating reports of an incident which occurred in Kirkby on Monday, 6 February, when a man made inappropriate advances toward a teenage girl.  This was reported by members of the public to police, but no victim was initially identified.  I want to make it absolutely clear that this is very much an ongoing investigation, and we would urge anyone who witnessed this incident, or who has any information, which could help us bring the offender to justice, to come forward.  Social media speculation, misinformation and rumour can actually damage the outcome of investigations and cause unnecessary fear and consequent behaviour, so I would continue to ask people to be mindful of the damage that such actions can cause.  We understand the concern that an incident can cause but I can assure you that the investigation is ongoing and we are doing everything we can to bring the offender to justice.”

Just to clarify, the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police issued a statement that sought to justify the gathering of a mob at a hotel where refugees and asylum seekers are resident, that sought to absolve the majority of the mob from blame by describing the existence of a subgroup – “a number of individuals,” and that included many more words on an alleged prior incident than on the violence of 10th February.  She said just one sentence regarding the safety and security of the residents of the hotel.

Serena Kennedy
Merseyside Police Chief Constable Serena Kennedy

Her comments, chosen carefully, were made in the context of and in agreement with prevailing government-promoted political perspective of othering refugees and asylum seekers and of accommodating racist, far-right ideology.  Her focus was appeasement of anti-refugee ideology.

Politicians’ reactions
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who recently congratulated herself on her use of words like “invasion” to describe asylum seekers and refugees when challenged by a survivor of the Holocaust, made sure she included the language and claims of the racist far-right in her single short statement about violence in Knowsley published more than eighteen hours later.

I condemn the appalling disorder in Knowsley last night.  The alleged behaviour of some asylum seekers is never an excuse for violence and intimidation.” – Braverman, 5-00pm 11th February 2023

Here is labour leader Keir Starmer’s statement in full:

” – Keir Starmer, 11th February 2023

Media coverage
It is clear that a mob of racist far-right thugs organised a large gang with the intent of being violent.  However, some media reports chose to present woolly accounts with notable omissions. 

BBC: In its authorless report the day after (11th February) BBC began by making sure readers were not informed who were the wrongdoers.  The sentences below (second and third in the report) were designed to make it ambiguous regarding which group set the van on fire and threw missiles. 

A police van was set on fire after a rally against refugees and a counter-protest by pro-migrant groups took place near the Suites Hotel, Knowsley.  Police said missiles were thrown at officers but there were no injuries.”  

BBC quoted Clare Moseley from Care4Calais.

She [Moseley] said she saw ‘hundreds’ who she described as ‘far-right’.”  

The tactic used by BBC with the above sentence is to reduce factual observations (by Clare Moseley) to opinions.  Nowhere in the report does BBC refer to the mob as far-right, right-wing or racist.  “The BBC is yet to establish the nature of the protest.”

The tone and the absence of information in BBC’s report is policy.  The objective is to avoid correct descriptions and present facts as opinions.  This policy was created by Tory-appointee Tim Davie who, in a speech to BBC staff on 3rd September 2020, said “we need to explore new ways of delivering impartiality, seeking a wider spectrum of views, finding new voices from across the nation.”  He meant eschew facts and give equal credence to every view.

Warrington Guardian: In the first two sentences of its authorless report local newspaper Warrington Guardian described the violence – “protesters hurled missiles and damaged a police van” – but stressed there were “two groups of protesters” (mob of violent far-right racist thugs; group of peaceful people showing solidarity with residents of the hotel) without saying that one “group” was enacting all the violence.  It’s a neat trick: The newspaper knows that many readers don’t read a wide variety of accounts of news events and the first few sentences in a report can set a tone.

Evening Standard: Similar to the Warrington Guardian, Lucas Cumiskey and Bill McLoughlin used the “two groups of protesters” and “protesters hurled missiles and damaged a police van” juxtaposition in their first few sentences without stating that it was one group – the mob of racist, far-right thugs – who were violent.

Similar to BBC, the authors presented facts as opinion: “Multiple asylum seeker advocacy groups accused protesters of being affiliated with the far right.”

Wirral Globe: Craig Mannings’s report said “a protest and counter protest was initially peaceful, but during the evening there have been reports of missiles being thrown.” He chose to avoid stating clearly that it was the mob of racist far-right thugs that was violent.

WalesOnline: Lucas Cumiskey and Stephen Pitts followed the same line as the above outlets. They said “police were dealing with two groups of protesters after a demonstration descended into chaos.”

The two key themes in the reports mentioned above are

  1. The deliberate failure to make clear that one “group of protesters” caused the violence coupled with deliberate adjacent highlighting that there were two groups
  2. The deliberate omission of the political ideology of the mob of racist far-right thugs.

The misdirection regarding not emphasising that one “group of protesters” caused the violence, after saying there were two groups, was a political decision.

Racist far-right violence in Knowsley and carefully crafted responses from police, politicians and media

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