Britain First activist convicted of assaulting security guard at hotel housing asylum seekers
Warrant issued for James White’s arrest after he fails to attend trial over protest at Coventry Hill Hotel
A Britain First activist has been convicted of assaulting a security guard at a hotel housing asylum seekers.
James White, 31, forced open a door at the Coventry Hill Hotel as members of the far-right group tried to access an area where refugees were staying.
The incident, on 29 August 2020, came during one of numerous protests by Britain First at hotels being used by the government to house asylum seekers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Activists frequently video themselves entering hotels without permission, then film staff and anyone they deem to be a “migrant”.
White was found guilty of assault in his absence on Monday, after failing to attend his trial at Coventry Magistrates’ Court.
Janis Cauthery, chair of the bench, said: “We think this incident must have been very frightening for [victim] Mike Todd and the rest of the staff and residents.
“Mr Todd was extremely brave in trying to stop the group entering an area where only residents were allowed. In doing this he sustained an injury.”
White denied assault but magistrates found that Mr Todd’s evidence was corroborated by CCTV and other witnesses.
Giving evidence, Mr Todd told magistrates he suffered a graze to his left wrist, while trying to hold a set of double doors closed.
“I wasn’t aggressive, I was saying to these people to leave,” he said. “These people have acted aggressively to me, getting more aggressive to me and to all of the residents, who are refugees.”
CCTV played in court showed that as Mr Todd held the handles, White “yanks the doors open aggressively”, said prosecutor Harminder Hayre.
A warrant was issued for White’s arrest following his conviction, after he had previously been released on conditional bail. He will be sentenced at a later date.
The court heard that White, of Southam in Warwickshire, was one of two men initially arrested but the only one charged over the incident.
Footage of the altercation was not included in a video Britain First sent out on its social media channels claiming to have “exposed” the Coventry Hill Hotel.
It showed a group of activists, including leader Paul Golding, entering the hotel and looking for asylum seekers.
Young men were filmed as Mr Golding could be heard asking if they were asylum seekers, and what country they were from.
When challenged after entering a room containing food packages, the Britain First leader did not identify himself and claimed: “We’re just reporting, investigating this hotel. We’re wondering why this hotel is full of migrants.”
The Britain First video claimed that police stopped a minibus transporting activists from the hotel, and arrested White and another man “for no reason”.
Golding, who has previously been convicted under the Terrorism Act and for religiously-aggravated harassment, later interviewed White.
In a video published online by Britain First in September 2020, the leader claimed White “did nothing wrong”, adding: “You was in there in your capacity as a member of BFD, our security department, and your job that day was to protect me and they’ve concocted this nonsense.”
Golding said that by the time of the interview, he had visited at least 20 other hotels, and vowed that the campaign would continue.
White said he would be pleading not guilty and claimed his charge was part of efforts to give Britain First a “bad name”.
“They don’t want the general public to see what’s going on inside hotels in everyone’s area,” he added. “Britain First is exposing these and the government and our country doesn’t want that to happen.”
Police have been called to several similar incidents and the Home Office offered hotels housing asylum seekers security assistance because of actions by Britain First last year.
Hotels have been widely used as emergency asylum accommodation since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, because there was not enough capacity in official facilities to cope with social distancing and an extension of government housing support.
In September, Britain First was allowed to re-register as a political party by the Electoral Commission.
The watchdog said an official application “met the legal criteria”, and it has vowed to field candidates in upcoming elections.