Home Office urged to investigate after far-right conference at Samlesbury Hotel

Posted on - 22nd September, 2023 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston News, South Ribble News
The Samlesbury Hotel Pic: Google

A South Ribble hotel manager has spoken of her shock after discovering that a room hired out to host a party for armed forces veterans was actually staging a far-right conference – complete with baseball bat-carrying security guards on the door.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) can reveal that the Samlesbury Hotel unwittingly ended up as the venue for the annual gathering of self-styled “racial nationalist” group Heritage and Destiny earlier this month – with police ultimately being called to bring the event to an end.

The organisation – whose magazine is edited in Preston – had told those travelling to the private function to meet at “redirection points” in the city, as the location was not publicised in advance.

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As the LDRS reported in the days leading up the group’s yearly get-together on 9th September, attendees were coming together to commemorate figures like the 1930s founder and leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley, and the late ‘White power’ musician, Ian Stuart Donaldson.

Neither that itinerary nor the list of speakers at the event – which it has since emerged included a Spanish neo-Nazi who is banned from Germany – was known to management or staff at the highly-rated Samlesbury Hotel, one of its senior managers has said.

The independently-run venue, on Preston New Road, had reserved a conference room in good faith for a purported reunion party for veterans.

That had led the hotel’s operations manager to expect guests wearing poppies – not bearing baseball bats.

Liz [who did not want to give her surname] told the LDRS that worried staff contacted her on her day off when they became concerned “for guest safety”.  The hotel boss was stunned by the scene that greeted her on her arrival.

“I found security guards on our function suite doors with metal baseball bats, which I insisted were put away immediately.

“I asked [event organiser] Mark Cotterill to leave, on the basis that he had booked the function under false pretences – but he refused and said he had paid for a certain length of time.

“I just wanted them gone – I had guests in the hotel with families and children –  [but] they weren’t for going [just by] me asking.

“In no way was the hotel complicit with the events that occurred on the day.  As soon as [we knew what was happening], we got rid of them as quickly as we could,” Liz explained.

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She said that she was ultimately required to carry out a threat to call the police, by which point some of those attending the meeting had already left – with others then following suit.

However, the event had by then been going on for around five hours, during which time Liz had also become aware of what she describes as “offensive and inappropriate” merchandise being on sale. The LDRS has seen pictures of a medal with a swastika on it.

“They didn’t want any staff to enter the room,” Liz said.

“I actually went into the first part of the room, where the merchandise was [laid out], and was told:  ‘You shouldn’t be in here.’

“Well, I’m running this hotel, I can go where I like.”

Liz says that while nobody attending the event was aggressive towards her, she found the whole situation a “frightening” experience.

The hotel says it had even charged a reduced rate for the use of the room, because a number of its staff are armed forces veterans and the venue wanted to make a gesture of goodwill.

Liz has now been left pausing for thought about what she would always previously have considered innocuous bookings.

“It makes you question [people]. As soon as I got the message [about the Heritage and Destiny event], I Googled the name of the person that organised it and I was like:  ‘Oh, you are kidding me.’”

Lancashire Police was approached by the LDRS for comment.

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Home Office under pressure over ‘Spanish Fascist’ allowed to travel to Lancashire

The long-running anti-fascist magazine Searchlight reported earlier this week that one of the speakers at this year’s Heritage and Destiny annual meeting was a Spanish woman it describes as “a notorious Neo-Nazi” – Isabel Peralta.

The publication states that Ms. Peralta is “banned” from Germany and contrasts that status with the fact that she was allowed to travel freely to the UK in order to attend the event at the Samlesbury Hotel.  According to Searchlight, she was, however, stopped and questioned by border officials before being allowed to continue her journey into the heart of Lancashire.

Dave Savage, secretary of the Preston and South Ribble Trades Union Council, told the LDRS that the organisation was demanding “an explanation” from the Home Secretary about why Isabel Peralta was allowed into the country.

“Other known far-right extremists have been denied entry to the UK in the past, on the basis that it would not be conducive to the public good.  Why were these individuals banned and Peralta allowed in?

“Given the criminally violent acts of far-right extremists in the UK in recent years, we have a right to expect greater vigilance from the Home Office when it comes to fascist activists seeking to enter the UK to radicalise individuals in our communities.

“This is a deeply serious matter, which deserves a full and frank response from the Home Secretary”, Mr. Savage added.

The LDRS approached the Home Office, which refused to be drawn on an individual case, but a spokesperson said: “Extremism has no place in our society. We work closely with law enforcement, local communities and our international partners to tackle groups and individuals who sow division and hatred.”

Mark Cotterill, the Ribbleton-based editor of the Heritage and Destiny magazine and organiser of the group’s annual meeting, said that Isabel Peralta was stopped by what he describes as “the political police” at Manchester Airport, under the Terrorism Act.

“I’ve been stopped twice under Schedule 7 [of that Act] myself – that’s just par for the course if you are a nationalist.  But they saw she was not in any way a risk to UK security, so they let her enter,” Mr. Cotterill said.

The Heritage and Destiny website says that Ms. Peralta’s “only crime is to be a brave and intelligent national socialist, which is not a crime in the UK, where the peaceful expression of political opinions and historical viewpoints is entirely lawful, so long as no one is inciting violence or hatred”.

Other speakers at the Heritage and Destiny event included senior figures from far-right group Patriotic Alternative. Part of the organisation’s blueprint for a “successful and prosperous United Kingdom” is to offer “those of immigrant descent who have obtained British passports…generous financial incentives in order to return to their ancestral homelands”.

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Fulwood venue was also told it was a ‘memorial gathering’

The LDRS revealed earlier this month that Heritage and Destiny had used a similar cover story to try to rebook for 2023 the venue that had unknowingly hosted its annual meeting last year.

Twelve months ago, St. Anthony’s Social Centre in the Cadley area of Preston rented a room for what it was told was a ”memorial” – but which later transpired was actually the Heritage and Destiny gathering.

Unlike at the Samlesbury Hotel, there were no outward signs of what was really taking place at the facility when the meeting was under way – although the suspicions of the centre’s steward were raised when staff were asked to serve from a bar in another room.

However, it was only in the following weeks that the venue was made aware of the event that had taken place under its roof.

When the centre accepted a provisional reservation for a veterans booking earlier this year, steward Karen Harle was alive to the possibility that it could be another front – and so cancelled it.  In response, she received a text rant from an unnamed individual accusing her of falling for “fake news and lies”.

It was seemingly at this point that, without a venue for 2023, that Heritage and Destiny turned its attention to the Samlesbury Hotel.

Paul Jenkins, North West regional organiser for Unite Against Fascism, helped organise a “unity rally” in Preston city centre at the same time that the Heritage and Destiny event was taking place over the border in South Ribble.

He told the LDRS that using false pretences to rent rooms is “the only way they can get a venue”.

“As in this case, [once] the event starts, the very real nature of these fascist groups becomes apparent.   It’s not a normal political gathering when you’ve got [people with] baseball bats and…Nazi merchandise.

“The fact that they have to book secretly to try and hold a meeting says a lot [and] I think it highlights that other venues [need to] look out for far-right groups trying to book…under false names.

“It’s also a sign of how we can’t be complacent at all. In other parts of Europe, the far right are open and public – and in the mainstream.  Because we have consistently opposed fascist organisations in this country and kicked them out of the mainstream for the moment, they have been pushed back onto the fringes and have to hold secret meetings.

“That’s why it was so important we all came out as we did in Preston at the 9th September rally…to show fascists aren’t welcome in Preston or anywhere else,” Mr. Jenkins added.

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‘Guards were to defend the gathering and hotel staff’

Responding to the issues raised in this report, Heritage and Destiny’s Mark Cotterill acknowledged that a group of between eight and ten security guards had been placed on the door of the function room at the Samlesbury Hotel, but he added:  “As far as I’m aware, none of them were armed with metal baseball bats – if [they had have] been armed, I’m sure the police would have arrested them.

“The security staff were there to protect both meeting attendees and hotel staff alike, just in case thugs from the Labour Party or Socialist Worker Party tried to attack it – as they have done to other nationalist meetings in the past.”

He said that no hotel staff were threatened in any way and that although police did arrive “about an hour before the meeting ended”, he did not believe that they entered the function room.

“The police have my telephone number – if there had been any issues, I’m sure they would have called me or come and spoken to me, but they did not,” Mr. Cotterill said.

He said he was not aware of any offensive or inappropriate merchandise being sold, again stating that police would have arrested anybody doing so

Mr. Cotterill, who has lived in Preston since 2009 and denies being a fascist, also claimed that there had been no secrecy in his dealings with the Samlesbury Hotel, but said that “if the booking was taken in our real name, the Communists and their Labour and Socialist Worker Party lackies would have found out and got our venue cancelled”.

“All in all, this year’s meeting was a great success – a full photo report and videos of the speakers are on the Heritage and Destiny website.

“We don’t hide our faces or what we have to say – which is, of course, 100 percent legal – [and] we never have.”

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