27 July 2023

Hotel earmarked for housing asylum seekers granted injunction against protesters

27 July 2023

The owners of a four-star hotel in South Wales earmarked for housing asylum-seekers have secured a temporary High Court injunction limiting the activities of protesters objecting to the plans.

Gryphon Leisure – which owns the Stradey Park Hotel & Spa in Furnace, Llanelli, Dyfed – asked a judge in London to impose an “urgent interim injunction” in a bid to prevent trespass and obstruction at the property.

Judge Roger ter Haar KC concluded at a hearing on Thursday that there was a “very strong chance” the hotel would not be able to “exercise its own property rights” and granted the injunction until late January next year.

The hotel owner’s injunction bid was adjourned by the judge earlier this week because he wanted people who had emailed him to be able to attend court and make submissions.

An unacceptable level of protest... needs to be stopped

Several action groups are opposed to plans for the venue to host up to 241 asylum seekers which were announced in June.

On Thursday, a group of Furnace residents who live close to the hotel shared their concerns over the impact of the protests and the potential arrival of asylum seekers.

The judge said they spoke “powerfully and emotionally” to him about it.

Tracey Hallett, a carer whose grandmother had previously owned the hotel, said the majority of protesters were “peaceful” but claimed that “hard right groups had caused unrest”.

As a result of the protests and the proposed new use of the hotel, she had stopped using her nearby home for respite care, the court heard.

Ms Hallett’s daughter, Jessica Hallett, said she had become “petrified to live in my own home” due to “the activity of far right groups”.

Dafydd Parkman said local parents were “extremely concerned with the situation at present”, including about “very real safety issues” and the impact that plans for housing asylum seekers could have on the area’s “limited resources”.

Ben Morris raised concerns about the impact of plans on the local education system, adding that he was “unable to sell” his property because estate agents said it had fallen in value.

The normal law-abiding citizens of Llanelli feel this is wrong

Stephen Williams, who got married at the hotel, said 60 weddings had been cancelled, while a local florist may have to close due to a lack of business.

He said the “wealth of feeling” over issues around the hotel was “overwhelming”, adding: “The normal law-abiding citizens of Llanelli feel this is wrong.”

Jonathan Rose, who works in the local entertainment industry, said many businesses in the area relied on tourism, with the hotel being a “community resource” in a “deprived area”.

Local pub owner Damian Hart said it had “lost a lot of revenue already through the hotel closing as we get a lot of footfall and a lot of parties from the hotel coming down”.

Jenny Wigley KC told Thursday’s hearing that Gryphon Leisure wanted the temporary injunction to “forbid” protesters entering hotel land, blocking any entrance to the property or obstructing the owners, their employees or contractors from accessing it.

The barrister said the injunction was not intended to “interfere with the right to protest”.

She said in written arguments that hotel owners were urgently seeking an injunction to “protect” Stradey Park from “the actions of protesters opposed to asylum seekers being temporarily housed there”.

Ms Wigley said it was understood that opposition from members of the local community to the plans were “out of concern that bringing asylum seekers to the area will ‘change the dynamics of the area’ and risk local jobs”.

She said protesters had previously “dumped very large rocks by tractor” and erected a metal fence to block access to the hotel.

Naturally, we are disappointed. But we do, of course, respect the judge’s decision. We’ve just lost one part of the battle

Protesters had also chained themselves to the ground, put up tents and marquees, waved Union and Welsh flags and held up signs, “some of which display racist and offensive slogans”, Ms Wigley said.

She said protesters had been “verbally aggressive”, had sought to “intimidate and threaten” staff and contractors and had “slashed the tyres” of the owner’s vehicles.

Ms Wigley said protest action prevented security contractors leaving the now vacant site, “essentially placing them under siege”, until they were “evacuated with a police escort” earlier this month.

She said Gryphon Leisure feared the hotel was “vulnerable to trespass and damage” and that their insurance was “under threat” as a result of actions by protesters, some of whom were camping overnight outside.

The judge said in his ruling there is “clearly … an unacceptable level of protest which needs to be stopped” and noted that the injunction would not stop protesters altogether but would “at least stop the more unacceptable elements of the protests that are going on”.

He also said there were some protesters travelling from far away to demonstrate outside the hotel.

Furnace Action Committee spokesman Robert Lloyd said: “We’re very proud of our representatives and other residents of the area who put up an excellent case before the High Court.

“Naturally, we are disappointed. But we do, of course, respect the judge’s decision. We’ve just lost one part of the battle.”

Earlier on Thursday, Helen Thomas, 52, from Furnace, appeared at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court to deny a charge of locking on to an object, other persons or land on July 9 with intent to cause serious disruption to those wishing to enter the hotel.

The legal proceedings come after Carmarthenshire County Council lost a bid for a High Court injunction on July 7 to temporarily block plans to use the hotel to accommodate asylum seeker families on the basis that it represents a material change of use and would be a “breach of planning control”.

The 77-bed site is said to have once hosted “major stars” from TV, film and sport, including the 1972 Llanelli rugby team that beat the All Blacks.

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