Three people have been arrested after “violent scenes” outside a hotel where asylum seekers were staying in Merseyside.
A demonstration descended into chaos outside the Suites Hotel in Ribbers Lane, Prescot, on Friday evening.
A police van was set on fire and officers were seen carrying riot shields in the area.
Knowsley MP Sir George Howarth said the demonstration was triggered by “an alleged incident on social media” and criticised misinformation claiming refugees were “feather-bedded” inside.
Clare Moseley, founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, said she was among up to 120 people from pro-migrant groups who went to the scene in reaction to the protest to show support for the asylum seekers.
Ms Moseley, 52, spoke to Sky News about the “violent scenes” and said fireworks were set off and rocks were thrown.
She claimed people she described as “far-right” set a police van on fire before it “exploded”.
After arriving at about 8.15pm, she said police had separated the protesters into their two respective groups before violence erupted.
Ms Moseley said: “We turned up because we heard that there were going to be some far-right people there and we didn’t want people in the hotel to be frightened or alone. But we had no idea just how many people were going to be there.
“I was very shocked at how violent it got… to see these kinds of scenes in Liverpool, it broke my heart.”
‘It was like a warzone’
In separate comments to the Press Association, Ms Moseley said one of the opposing protesters had “got on top of the police van”.
“And then next you thing you know somebody says they’ve set the police van on fire,” she added.
“And you looked and you could see fire coming out of the window of the police van.
“And you think, how on earth could they have got past the police cordon, got to the police van, got on top of it? There was a lot of police there.
“And then the next thing the police van just completely exploded and there was lots of fire, there was clouds of smoke, lots more police started coming down the road.
“You could see there was fighting starting to break (out) and then the police started going down there in full riot gear.
“Groups of police with shields, full head to toe riot gear going down there.
“I’m trying to get in touch with some of the poor men in that hotel, I can only imagine how frightened they are.
“It was like a warzone.”
Multiple asylum seeker advocacy groups accused protesters of being affiliated with the far right.
Refugee Action chief executive Tim Naor Hilton wrote on Twitter: “If you’re part of a baying mob outside a hotel where refugees live then you’re the far right…even if you don’t like being called that.”
Merseyside Police said three people were arrested on Friday night on suspicion of violent disorder.
Assistant Chief Constable Paul White called the scenes “completely unacceptable”.
He said: “We will always respect the right to protest when these are peaceful, but the scenes tonight were completely unacceptable, putting those present, our officers and the wider community in danger.
“Thankfully we have not had any serious injuries reported up to this point, but for officers and police vehicles to be damaged in the course of their duty protecting the public is disgraceful.”
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper criticised the “shameful violence and appalling behaviour” outside the hotel, while Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Emily Spurrell described the scenes as “deeply shocking”.