Dozens of protesters occupy Llanelli hotel planned for asylum seekers
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Motorcyclists and protesters on foot, including one dressed as a traffic cone, occupied the grounds of Llanelli’s Stradey Park Hotel where the Home Office plans to locate up to 240 asylum seekers.
Footage on social media showed dozens of people in the hotel’s main car park and at the top of the steps outside its reception area on October 1 following a protest motorcade in the town.
In one of the videos a man is heard saying: “Amazing scenes.” He said the motorcyclists at the end of the motorcade “all came through”. He laughed, then added: “Their fencing is not looking good, folks.”
Another person claimed the actions of the protesters would only be deemed aggravated trespass if the hotel’s owners or their agents told them to leave. It’s not clear how long they stayed within the grounds.
Several Dyfed-Powys Police officers were at the scene at the time, and later that evening put out a fire on a ground floor stairwell at the hotel. Fire fighters arrived afterwards, checked the area, and left two hours later.
In a video posted on September 30 promoting the following day’s motorcade, a man said there would be a fancy dress competition, plus cup cakes, fridge magnets, Welsh flags and bucket hats for sale.
In a video taken at the protest, a man is heard saying those involved were standing up for what they believed in and “saying no to illegal immigrants”.
Some protesters covered their faces, others were in fancy dress. This led to the bizarre sight of a small group, including one dressed up as traffic cone and another as a daffodil, doing a conga in front of the hotel entrance.
It’s not the first time the hotel’s grounds have been breached. Some protesters gained access on the evening of August 15 and, according to police, behaved in “an intimidating manner”. Police spoke of a “concerning escalation of behaviour” by some protesters, and an order is in place providing officers with the power to order people to remove balaclavas or similar face-covering clothing. Speaking in August, Llanelli MP Dame Nia Griffith said “recent disturbances” had been terrifying for residents. “Of course, people have the right to peaceful protest, but this sort of lawlessness does nothing to further the cause, gives Llanelli a bad reputation and is a nightmare for local residents,” she said.
The Home Office said at an online meeting in August that it appreciated there were “strong concerns from the local community”. A spokeswoman said: “A careful and considered plan to move asylum seekers to the hotel in a phased approach is being worked on closely with local partners to ensure arrangements are safe for hotel residents and local people. The Home Office has a legal obligation to support asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute.” Its agents, Clearsprings Ready Homes Ltd, said the hotel wouldn’t house asylum seekers until it was signed off as safe to do so.
The controversial proposals for the four-star spa hotel were revealed in May. At that point it looked like the first of the asylum seekers would start arriving from early July. Protests began and legal bids to stop the plans were submitted by Carmarthenshire Council. Although the legal action was unsuccessful, no asylum seekers have arrived yet. However, almost 100 jobs have been lost as a result of the hotel closing before it was effectively taken over on the ground by Clearsprings Ready Homes.
Many local people in the Furnace area have expressed their dismay at the planned use of the hotel, arguing that the community was too small for a large number of asylum seekers, but some have also expressed for the asylum seekers’ plight.
While most of the protest action has been peaceful, police said in August that 21 arrests had been made to date. And some local businesses have felt it necessary to put the record straight on false speculation that they have been working at the site or assisting those who were.
Asked if it wished to comment on the October 1 occupation of the hotel grounds, a Home Office spokesman said it didn’t comment on individual accommodation sites, but that it was “working hard to reduce the unacceptable use of hotels by moving asylum seekers into alternative, cheaper accommodation, doubling them up in hotel rooms, and clearing the legacy backlog”.
Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue service said it was called to Stradey Park Hotel at 10.27pm on October 1. “The (Llanelli) crew responded to a fire in a stairwell on the hotel’s ground floor, which had been extinguished by members of Dyfed-Powys Police before their arrival,” said a spokesman. A fire investigation was due to take place on October 2.
Protesters were gathered outside the hotel, as usual, on October 2. They were unwilling to talk to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, except for one man who said “there’s always a lovely crowd here”. He said he didn’t know where the motorcyclists the previous day were from. The man, who said he was from Furnace, claimed that somebody had opened a gate, allowing them to gain entry, and that they had parked up for a bit and “had a chill”.
Dyfed-Powys Police was asked if it wished to comment but didn’t respond at the time of going to press.
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