Rival groups hold protests over asylum seekers housed in Newquay hotel

  • Watch Kathy Wardle's report

Hundreds of demonstrators from rival groups have been protesting outside a Newquay hotel being used to house asylum seekers.

A counter-demonstration in support of those staying at the Beresford Hotel, organised by the group 'Cornwall Resists' began gathering this morning (25 February).

By lunchtime, hundreds of opposing protestors including local residents gathered on the opposite side of the road.

There was a significant police presence surrounding the hotel, and along Newquay's Narrowcliff, keeping both groups apart.

Devon & Cornwall Police said its officers engaged with those in attendance and the event passed peacefully with no arrests made.

Protestors in 'show of solidarity' outside the Beresford Hotel Credit: ITV News

In a statement, the Cornwall Resists group said: "We are sad that our presence is needed in Newquay. We don’t want to be on the streets. We want a diverse Cornwall, that’s a sanctuary for refugees. We’re not looking for a fight. We’re not looking to cause trouble."

One protester amongst the group, who lives in Newquay, told ITV News she felt compelled to come.

Hayley McLeod said: "I feel that Newquay should be a welcoming community for everybody no matter how they've got here or why they're here, we're a diverse and friendly town and I wanted to show that today."

Local residents and Cornwall Resists protest outside the Beresford Hotel Credit: ITV News

One protester who was against the use of the hotel for housing asylum seekers but wished to stay anonymous told ITV News: "I'm protesting today because we've got so many homeless people here in Cornwall who've lived here all their lives and they've been stuck homeless for so long, yet we're taking in refugees.

"We should help our own people before we help anyone else."

The Conservative MP for Newquay & St Austell, Steve Double, told ITV News that tensions have risen following posts on social media from local residents concerned about safety and crime. Mr Double said that "protests were not the best way to address those concerns".

He added: "Every week since the asylum seekers were moved into the hotel last November, I've been meeting and keeping up with officials at the Home Office and, of course, with the local police in Newquay, and although there have been a very small number of incidents raised with the authorities, it is very small.

A heavy police presence outside the Beresford Hotel kept the two protest groups separate

"I think unfortunately a lot of this has been blown out of proportion through social media. Of course, if people have legitimate concerns then it's absolutely right that those are reported and followed up."

Cornwall Council: 'The planned protests are not welcome'

Cornwall Council urged residents to show "warmth and tolerance" to asylum seekers staying in Cornwall.

In statement released on the council's website it said: "Cornwall Council urges everyone to show warmth and tolerance to people residing in the Beresford Hotel Newquay, whilst they are lawfully and legitimately housed here by the UK government.

"The planned protests are not welcome and we call upon everyone to consider the circumstances of the individuals residing there. We encourage people not to attend the protests."

The local authority says some of the asylum seekers may be newly arrived in the UK, and others may have been here for sometime whilst awaiting a decision on their asylum claim. It says people will be moved out as other accommodation in the system is made available.

Cornwall Council has also now created a designated help desk which can be contacted using the email refugeehelp@cornwall.gov.uk

ITV News also spoke to a number of residents in Newquay about the general mood in the town ahead of this weekend's protest.

Police and protesters gathered on Narrowcliff in Newquay Credit: ITV News

Molly Pender said: "I think it's not fair and it's not nice and everybody should be welcome here, everybody should have their arms wide open if people need help."

Lucia House said: "I feel like there's not been a lot of issues, I've not known of any issues with them but I feel like the protests are going to make a lot of issues that's just unnecessary."

'Everyone in Newquay wants the hotel back to housing tourists'

The Beresford Hotel is owned by the Bespoke Hotels group, which currently has a contract with the Home Office to provide accommodation to asylum seekers. ITV News approached Bespoke Hotels for a response to the protests, but it declined to comment.

The town's MP says the use of the building is a temporary measure.

Mr Double added: "We are working to find somewhere more appropriate. I understand of course everyone in Newquay wants that hotel back to the purpose it's intended for, which is to house tourists. We want that to happen as quickly as possible, but certainly ahead of the summer season and I'm continuing to press that with the Home Office."