MP calls for Wigan hotel to stop housing asylum-seekers after incident involving schoolgirl

Security has been stepped up and the council is in talks with the firm managing asylum-seekers at a Wigan hotel amid claims of schoolgirls’ being watched and harassed.

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 8:07 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 9:04 am
The Britannia Hotel

Several parents from the Standish area have told wigantoday that they are stopping their daughters from going out because groups of men have allegedly been filming their PE lessons at the local high school, winking and passing comments at them in the street and, in one instance, surrounding a 12-year-old and filming her.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said she was appalled that the Britannia Hotel in Standish was being used to accommodate vulnerable asylum-seekers again, several years after both the Home Office and services operator Serco accepted that it was completely unsuitable for the purpose, and had done so with no notice or consultation with the police, council, herself or the local community.

And she demanded that the arrangement ends again as soon as possible.

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The Line bridleway is a popular haunt for the men

One mum said: “The behaviour of a small number of men from the Britannia Hotel has been causing a lot of upset.

“They clearly need educating. If you flee from your own country and want to be accepted in a new one, then you need to learn the new country’s ways.

“The last thing we want is all the right-wing thugs using this as an excuse to bring their toxic messages to Wigan again and whipping up racism.”

Another said: “They have got police around Standish High now just after school because of what has been going on and that offers some reassurance.

But the problems aren’t just confined to the perimeter of the school and that time of day.

“My daughters are being taken to school and back and are going nowhere else on foot at the moment because I don’t feel it’s safe.

"The behaviour is borderline legal-illegal so people aren’t being arrested but the worry is that this could escalate if it’s allowed to continue.”

Wigan Council said it had been made aware of the Standish issues and was liaising with both the Home Office and Serco.

Ms Nandy said: “I have been in touch with local families and the police about the concerns that have been raised in recent days. Our priority is to ensure that Serco puts in place plans to ensure the safety of all concerned and that this arrangement is brought to an end swiftly.

“The Home Office must stop treating councils and communities with contempt and work with our local authority to ensure suitable alternative accommodation.”

She said she was appalled that Home Secretary Priti Patel hadn’t even "had the courtesy to respond" to a letter of concern she had sent her on the issue.

Ms Nandy added: "Across Greater Manchester leaders, public health officials and charities have been working together to plan a warm and suitable welcome for Afghan refugee families.

"Instead here we have the same chaos led by Serco."

The mother of the 12-year-old girl who was surrounded and filmed by a group of men says she is now terrified to go anywhere other than school.

Vikki Boyle said her daughter and many other girls in the Standish area are staying home rather than going to the park, shops or anywhere else on foot because of this incident and others in which young girls have received unwanted attention from strangers.

Some of the same men have been spotted watching girls taking part in sporting activities at Standish High School and bothering pupils outside the school gates at going-home time, prompting the school to put out a “stranger danger” warning and there has been high profile policing outside the school in recent weeks.

But Vikki says that more needs to be done. Her daughter, whom we are not naming, was not approached at school or at going-home time, but at 8pm on the popular walkway called The Line.

The incident happened on September 7 and this week the police concluded that no offence was committed.

But Vikki and her family are far from happy.

She said: “The police say that they may not have been filming her and may may not have been trying to grab her or touch her. But she was left terrified.

“After all the months of lockdown when everyone was deprived of human contact and the psychological damage that has had on children, the last thing you need is further confinement for a separate reason now.

“But we’ve been keeping our daughters in all summer holiday because of these men who are hanging around in Standish and at the school. That evening she persuaded us to let her go to Aldi with a friend.

“They were on their way back and then the friend pealed off to go home leaving our daughter to make the last bit of the trip home on her own.

“She was coming down The Line when she saw around 10 men standing in a row, all looking at her. She got in a panic and did not know what to do.

“As she got closer one of them started filming her with his phone. He said ‘stop!’ and they circled round her so she could not get away. They said ‘come with us’ and she started crying.

“Then she spotted a man she knew by sight - now we know he is called Ross Pilkington because he had become a bit of a local hero because of all this - and she managed to duck between two of the men and run towards Ross who was with his little boy and dog and they escorted her home.

“I dread to think what would have happened if he hadn’t been there. Mr husband Dominic and I have drummed it into our children about stranger danger and what you should and shouldn’t do, but I’m not sure what I would have done if faced with that situation. I’m pretty sure our older girl would have just frozen.

“We rang the police straight away. Our daughter was sure she could identify five out of 10 of them.

“Some of them are quite familiar round here. They seem to have a particular interest in girls. The most stunning mum could be walking down the street but it’s their school-aged daughters they are winking at or trying to beckon away.

“Our daughter now is terrified to go anywhere other than school and back. And it’s not that reassuring there when these guys are watching girls doing their PE through the fencing.

“The school has been brilliant about all this and there have been quite a lot of police around after school, but these incidents aren’t just happening there or at that time. I work in Lidl and some of these men come in and they always only want to buy alcohol. Some we turn away because they are only 16 or 17.

“But then they go on The Line and are there being a drunken nuisance until after midnight sometimes.

“Something needs to be done about these men. They need educating as to how they should behave. My husband was all for going round and thumping one of them, but that’s not the answer. He would then be the one getting arrested.

“I’m sure the vast majority of those at the hotel are perfectly well behaved but there is a minority who aren’t.

“There is a general worry around Standish now about what is going on and girls in particular cannot enjoy their lives as they should.

“If nothing is done to tackle the problem then there is a danger of the public taking things into their own hands. And that’s wrong. It’s vigilantism. We don’t do that. People all get tarred with the same brush and innocents get hurt.”

A Wigan Council spokesperson said: “We are working closely with our colleagues at GMP to ensure any reported concerns are considered and responded to in the most appropriate manner, and also to coordinate offers of help and support for the asylum seekers whilst they are in our borough.

“We also remain in regular contact with the Home Office and Serco, who are responsible for managing the hotel, to raise any issues.

“If residents do have any concerns or believe that a crime has been committed, we continue to strongly advise them to report any such incidents to Greater Manchester Police.”

As far as the incident involving the 12-year-old was concerned, the spokesman added: “We take the safety of our residents very seriously and we are working closely with our colleagues at GMP to address any safety concerns within the community.”

With the regard to the incident on The Line, a spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police said: “Officers were called at around 7.45am on September 8 to a report of a girl being approached by a group of males the previous evening.

“Enquiries established that a group of men had been in the vicinity of the girl while she was walking on Preston Road, Standish, at around 8pm on September 7. The girl had not been approached by the men.

“The local Neighbourhood Police Team has investigated this report and conducted several reassurance visits with the family, and it has been established that no offences have been committed.

“In order to reassure the local community, officers have increased patrols in the area and are continuing to work closely with our colleagues from Wigan Council and all other local community partners to offer assurance to residents at the hotel and the wider community.

“The incident has been closed.

“Anyone with concerns should contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.”

As far as the wider Standish issue is concerned, Neighbourhood Inspector Phil James, of GMP's Wigan division, said: "We want everyone who lives or visits Wigan to feel safe walking the streets.

"A number of reports have been made to us in recent weeks and we have listened to concerns from members of the community.

"To help address these issues and reassure those residing in the area, we have increased the number of officers who are out and about on patrol. So, if you do have any concerns, please approach our officers and let them know.

"Where serious incidents have been reported to us with credible lines of enquiry, we have responded quickly and supported those who have been affected. You can also report any incidents online at www.gmp.police.uk.

"We are continuing to work with the local council, the hotel, and other community partners to offer support to all members of our community that Wigan is a safe place to live and work."

Jenni Halliday, Serco’s Contract Director for Asylum Accommodation Services, said: “With the significant increases in the number of people arriving in the UK we have been faced with no alternative but to temporarily accommodate some asylum seekers in hotels.

"These hotels are only used as a last resort but as a provider of accommodation services on behalf of the Home Office we have a responsibility to find accommodation for the asylum seekers that are being placed in our care.

"The Serco team is working extremely hard to move people into dispersed social housing as rapidly as possible.”

The town hall spokesman added that local authorities across the country are required to support asylum seekers placed by the Home Office into temporary accommodation, whether that is in a house, or as is with this case, at a hotel.

The spokesperson said that accommodation had been identified in the Britannia Hotel by the Home Office, and a contract is in place with Serco to manage the hotel and look after the asylum seekers on site.

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