First they fled war. Now they're getting hounded by the far-right
The Tribune has counted 20 instances of activists monstering hotels housing refugees in Sheffield and neighbouring towns over the past year
By Harry Shukman
As cinematography goes, there’s a lot to be desired. The first shaky shot is of a business park roundabout on a rainy afternoon. But what Amanda Smith lacks in camera skills, she makes up for in aggression. Smith is a far-right activist known as Yorkshire Rose who regularly appears at hotels housing refugees to hassle staff and guests.
Today she’s in Rotherham at the Ibis hotel, broadcasting live to her 3,000 fans on YouTube. She’s berating the security guards. “Are you housing illegal immigrants!” yells Smith. They try to get her to leave, but she moves towards a car park behind the building. Her camera is trained on a group of dark-skinned men who she believes to be refugees.
It’s not clear from the video, but there’s a brief scuffle with one of the guards. “I’m filming a documentary,” Smith shouts. “You’re in my way! We haven’t done anything… I haven’t come to cause trouble, I've come to do a report!” There’s a woman outside the hotel — it looks like she could be a charity worker — and Smith’s friend mocks her appearance, calling her a “munter”. The woman nervously laughs it off as the friend jeers at her again: “Look at the state of it!”
After ten uncomfortable minutes, the hotel staff convince Smith and her friend to leave. She walks away, encouraging her audience to share her footage. The comments from her followers roll in under the video on YouTube. “Get her number plate,” says one, referring to the charity worker. “Wonder how many young girls they have in there,” suggesting the migrants are abusing children in the hotel. A third adds: “Enoch was right.”
Smith, on her way out the hotel, sums up what she thinks about the staff and the refugees. “Don’t they make you sick,” she snaps.
In the past couple of years, in my reporting for my newsletter on the far-right, I’ve noticed a trend of activists turning up at hotels sheltering refugees to monster them and the staff looking after them, and broadcasting these unpleasant encounters live on social media. Sometimes they try to gain access to the hotels under the pretence of booking a room. This is deliberately done to provoke an altercation with hotel workers when the booking is refused. In other videos, they will merely arrive and film anyone who isn’t white.
This format was popularised by Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP and the Brexit Party. In a clip posted on his YouTube channel, he went to a hotel in Worcestershire and filmed Asian men on the premises. “We’ve no idea who some of these people are,” he says. “We’ve no idea whether some of these might be ISIS. It’s possible, I don’t know. We should not be doing this.” His video was viewed seven million times across social media, and we can assume that one of those viewers was Smith, who has taken to accusing immigrants of belonging to the Taliban.
The Tribune has counted 20 instances of monstering in Sheffield and neighbouring towns over the last year, sometimes on multiple occasions at the same location. Hotels and converted student accommodation in the city centre have been targeted, as have buildings in Chapeltown, Rotherham, Doncaster, Barnsley and Chesterfield. Hope Not Hate, the antiextremism charity, counted 125 hotel visits nationally in 2021, 15% of which resulted in a confrontation.
Richard, a Sheffield-based activist from the Channel Rescue organisation, describes the tactic of posting these videos as “money raising, ego recognition, and positive feedback from a minority of cranks”. He says it is a potential disruption to charity groups “working tirelessly getting socks and SIM cards to refugees”.
Smith (whose Twitter bio reads “Save our Small Island from Invaders”) is by far the most prolific far-right activist participating in hotel monstering. She has been joined, on occasion, by Alan Leggett, an influencer known as Active Patriot, who frequently films migrants at the Mercure Hotel in Doncaster. He has posted on Facebook that refugees “all want to bomb, rape and murder you”.
Another campaigner named James Goddard has accompanied Smith on monstering expeditions. He is a former regional organiser of Patriotic Alternative, a white nationalist organisation run by a man named Mark Collett, a self-described “Nazi sympathiser” who has recommended Mein Kampf to his followers. Goddard, from Manchester, was convicted of harassing Anna Soubry MP and given a restraining order after threatening a newspaper journalist. When I reported on Goddard earlier this year, he emailed my editor, saying: “I have no affiliation with Patriotic Alternative. I left last year as the group is infiltrated with state agents and I don’t hold the same beliefs as them.”
In addition to Smith and her fellow videographers, a far-right party called Britain First is responsible for much of this kind of activity. It is an extremist organisation that believes in the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which claims that shadowy elites are organising the immigration of Asians and Africans to threaten white Europeans. Based in Manchester, Britain First is led by Paul Golding, who has been imprisoned for committing hate crimes.
The group’s “exposé” of the Rotherham Ibis was uploaded in April. It opens with a montage of still photos of the hotel, showing spacious bedrooms sparkling with white linen and a cosy restaurant and bar. Then the cameraman’s footage begins. He accosts a guest leaving the hotel and asks what country he’s from. The cameraman is brushed off. “This hotel is crawling with illegal migrants,” he breathes. “One thing I’ve noticed about these supposedly destitute illegal immigrants is that they're all well-dressed, stylishly well-dressed.”
Britain First and influencers like Yorkshire Rose see the housing of refugees in hotels as a great propaganda device. Wherever possible, they seek to show that asylum seekers are undeserving. They call them “economic migrants” and dwell on the clothes they wear and the smartphones they might be using, as if to say real refugees wouldn’t be dressed so nicely or have gadgets. They try to portray refugees as devious foreigners trying to manipulate the asylum process and win a cushy life in England at the expense of homeless army veterans, who are repeatedly described as overlooked by the government.
Another way that refugees are made to look unworthy is by emphasising the quality of the hotels in which they are being housed. Smith, in a video filmed two weeks ago, turned up at the Staindrop Lodge in Chapeltown, a Georgian redbrick hotel, and repeatedly called it “absolutely beautiful, absolutely stunning”.
Once again, Smith is taking a cue from Nigel Farage. In August 2020, he toured hotels in the North in search of refugees, and described the “lovely swimming pools” of Daresbury Park in Warrington and the “amazing” grounds of Chimney House in Sandbach. After learning that a group of recent arrivals had been taken on a charity trip to Anfield Stadium in Liverpool, he became indignant. “All these people will be sending selfies and pictures back to their countries,” he says in the video. “And the message is: come on down, get into the country. Hotels, forty quid a week spending money, full board, trips to Anfield… It's stone bonkers.”
This, as you might have guessed, is a distorted picture of hotel-based accommodation. Conditions in many buildings are inadequate. The Refugee Council has warned that thousands of asylum seekers have been subjected to “dehumanising treatment” in hotels due to poor food quality, lack of proper clothing, and racist abuse from staff. Last August, a five-year-old Afghan boy died after falling from a ninth-floor room in the OYO Metropolitan Hotel in Castlegate. Five Sheffield MPs urged the Home Office to launch an independent investigation into Mohammed Munib Majeedi’s death. A spokeswoman for Paul Blomfield MP, who represents Sheffield Central, confirmed to The Tribune that this never happened.
A total of 37,000 asylum seekers are currently in hotel accommodation, according to a recent news report. The government has acknowledged their reliance on hotels is “unsustainable”. As far-right monstering is set to increase this year, the refugees in government-sponsored hotels will have another thing to worry about.
Harry Shukman is a regular reporter for The Tribune and he runs Scout, a fascinating newsletter about the evolution of the far-right in Britain.