Seven men jailed after violence outside asylum seeker hotel in Merseyside

Seven men have been jailed following a protest outside a hotel housing asylum seekers in Merseyside.

Thomas Mills, 47, Brian McPadden, 61, Paul Lafferty, 42, and Jonjo O’Donoghue, 21, were found guilty of violent disorder at Liverpool Crown Court in January after the demonstration outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley (pictured) on February 10 last year.

The four defendants had all admitted being present at the demonstration but denied being part of the violence which resulted in three police officers being injured and a police van being set alight.

A fifth defendant, Daniel Fulham, 39, who told the court he was in the area walking his Jack Russell dog, was found not guilty of violent disorder and of a lesser offence of abusive or threatening behaviour with intent to provoke violence.

The four defendants, all from Kirkby, Merseyside, apart from O’Donoghue, who is from Liverpool city centre, were part of a larger group who threw missiles and paving slabs at police and set fire to a police van during the incident, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

Police were made aware on February 9 last year that a protest, said to have been organised by the English Defence League (EDL), was expected to take place outside the hotel, which was providing temporary accommodation for asylum seekers, the following day.

There was “ill-feeling” in the local area after a video was shared on social media appearing to show an asylum seeker from the hotel asking a 15-year-old girl for her phone number and a kiss, the court previously heard.

There was no evidence that any of the defendants were members of a far-right group.

Mills, McPadden, Lafferty, and O’Donoghue were sentenced at the same court on Monday, along with four others who previously pleaded guilty to violent disorder.

McPadden and O’Donoghue were sentenced to three years and six months in prison, and Mills and Lafferty were sentenced to two years and eight months.

Liam Jones, 25, was sentenced to 27 months in prison, John Tippler, 59, was sentenced to two years in prison, Warren Cullen, 21, was handed 20 months in prison, Harry Boynton, 20, was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment suspended for 18 months, with 200 hours of unpaid work, 40 days of rehabilitation (RAR) and an electronically monitored curfew for three months, while Christopher Shelley, 45, is yet to be sentenced and remains on an outstanding arrest warrant.

Seven youths, aged between 13 and 17, have already been sentenced after they admitted violent disorder.

Six were given referral orders and one was fined.

Jared Skeete, 19, was sentenced to three years’ detention last April after he pleaded guilty to violent disorder, having thrown fireworks and snorted ketamine while shouting abuse at police.

Three women – Cheryl Nicholls, 44, Nicola Elliott, 52, and Jennifer Knox, 41 – were found not guilty of violent disorder halfway through the trial following a direction to the jury from the judge, who said there was “insufficient evidence”.

Senior Crown Prosecutor David Jones of CPS Mersey-Cheshire said: “This was not a peaceful protest as these men claimed. It descended into violence and hostility – most of it directed at the police, who had to use all their protective gear to protect themselves and prevent violence spilling over into the hotel.

“This has been a complex prosecution, which evolved as more people were identified from CCTV at the scene. Some pleaded guilty, others went to trial, but the hard work of both Merseyside Police and the Crown Prosecution Service has led to a successful conclusion.

“The right to peaceful protest is enshrined in law – but this protest descended into criminality and those involved have now been brought to justice.

“The disorder on that night shocked many in the local community and it is important that residents are assured that behaviour like this will meet with the full force of the law.”

Detective Chief Inspector John Fitzgerald, of Merseyside Police, said: “This incident stemmed from misinformation, speculation and rumours on social media in February last year that was robustly investigated and no further action was taken against anyone who was involved.

“The violence outside the hotel resulted in £83,686 of damage to our vehicles and facilities which could have been used to protect our residents. Officers were bombarded with various missiles and dispersal zones were put in place in the aftermath of the disorder to prevent any further incidents.

“It is completely unacceptable to intimidate and target particular communities in Knowsley in this appalling manner and those who did caused fear and distress to those residents inside the hotel and to the local community.

“We will always respect the right to protest when these are peaceful but such violence that endangered our officers and others will not be tolerated. “

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