Villagers in protests over hostel
THE JOURNAL (Newcastle, UK)
February 21, 2002, Thursday Edition 1
Villagers who believe 250 asylum seekers could be placed in their remote Northumberland community are considering a go-slow protest on a key road to Scotland. At a meeting at Otterburn Village Hall last night a London-based company, The Angel Group Ltd, was named as being interested in buying the Otterburn Hall Hotel complex and turning it into a hostel for asylum seekers. A separate plan by Wearside-based charity The Lazarus Foundation to convert the hotel into a hostel for asylum seekers is now “miles away” from fruition, according to its head Chris Jones. But villagers told the meeting, which was attended by almost 200, they had a strong belief The Angel Group has now approached the owners of holiday chalets within Otterburn Hall’s grounds with a view to buying them. In The Lazarus Foundation’s original plan the chalets would have been used for asylum seekers’ families and the villagers believe that any plan to buy the chalets could point strongly towards the purchase of the hall itself. Villagers stressed they were not racist but feel that their 500-strong community would be ruined by the placing of up to 250 asylum seekers at the nearby hall. Last night they suggested holding a legal go-slow protest, similar to those of the fuel protest in September and November 2000, in a bid to slow traffic on the A696 road through the village to attract national attention to their concerns. A protest outside the hall was also suggested. Villager and former postmaster Bryce Watson, who last night chaired a committee at the meeting which has been formed to fight any asylum seeker plans for the village, said: “We have information which points towards The Angel Group being behind offers for the chalets.” He was responding to villagers’ claims during the meeting that they believed The Angel Group was one a number of prospective buyers for the hall. The YMCA Otterburn Hall Trust which owns the hall have confirmed it has parties interested in buying it but will not confirm who these are. Mr Watson added: “We are not against asylum seekers as people. We actually would feel very sorry for them if they were to be placed so far into the country with so little to do. Having said that, the village is important to us and we must make sure it does not get swamped and ruined.” When contacted by The Journal last night a spokesman for The Angel Group, said: “We cannot comment on this matter [Otterburn] and it is our policy not to comment at all to members of the Press.” A Home Office spokeswoman confirmed that a Newcastle-based hostel for asylum seekers named Angel Heights is run by The Angel Group.