A teenage boy was allegedly raped by a man in his 30s at a hotel used to house refugees in east London, with another alleged sexual assault against a child taking place in the same facility.
The Metropolitan police confirmed they were investigating both incidents, which come amid growing fears of chronic overcrowding and unsafe facilities for refugees that have put significant pressure on the home secretary, Suella Braverman.
The other child was allegedly sexually assaulted at the same accommodation facility in Walthamstow. A person has been charged with one count of sexual touching of a child under 13 and would appear in court next week, the Met said.
Both incidents took place within weeks of each other at a hotel where 150 children are reportedly squeezed in alongside 250 adults.
Labour’s Stella Creasy called for Braverman to resign over the revelations, saying the Home Office was failing to have adequate safeguards in place to protect refugee children. Braverman has previously described such accommodation as “nice hotels” that cost up to £150 per person a night.
The use of hotel accommodation for people seeking asylum has almost trebled in 2021, despite pledges from the Home Office to end its use. In prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak said the Home Office was having to book hotel accommodation for hundreds more refugees.
The government is under significant pressure to move asylum seekers from immigration centres that are vastly overcrowded, including the Manston immigration processing centre in Kent.
Grace Williams, the leader of Waltham Forest council, has written to Braverman to raise concerns about the lack of safeguarding at the London facility, saying: “We have continuously expressed our view that accommodating families with children in contingency hotels is detrimental to children’s wellbeing. It is now evident that it is a risk to their safety too.”
The hotel is run by Clearsprings Ready Homes, which has a 10-year Home Office contract to manage asylum seeker accommodation in England and Wales. On Monday, the Guardian reported that the company increased its profits more than sixfold last year, with its three directors sharing dividends of almost £28m.
Creasy raised concerns about the conditions for children at the hotel in the Commons on Monday, before she became aware of the allegations. She said up to eight people were crammed into a room. “No school places for these primary-school-aged children. No clothes for most of them, especially for the winter weather. No play facilities if they are allowed at all of these prisons. No safeguarding as far as any of us can see,” she added.
She asked Braverman if she would publish the contracts that applied for the care of refugee children. Braverman said it was a fallacy to suggest that the government was cutting corners before adding: “When I arrived at the Home Office, I’ve been frankly very dismayed and appalled to find that we’re spending on average £150 per person per night to accommodate people in hotels. By my standards, that’s quite a nice hotel.”
Creasy told the Guardian that rather than taking her concerns seriously, Braverman “made a cheap jibe about the price of the hotels and showed little understanding about why it mattered”.
“These incidents underline just how important it is that those who have responsibilities towards these children do so with the professionalism and compassion they deserve,” she added.
“The home secretary has failed on all counts – if she had an ounce of integrity she would step down, and if she doesn’t the prime minister owes these children the duty of care that been missing to date and must remove her from her post.”
Williams said the hotel, which the council does not want to identify, is not suitable for long-term use. Many of the rooms do not have windows that open, carpets or desk space, and there is no communal space so refugees have to eat in their rooms.
She added that these circumstances illustrate that these hotels are not safe places for young people. “These are vulnerable children often moved thousands of miles placed in cramped hotels for months on end without adequate support in place,” she added.
“Councils are doing all they can to protect these people with little or no warning of large numbers of asylum seekers placed in their areas. Alongside schools and health services we are supporting people often with very complex needs with little additional resource.
“Waltham Forest has a proud history of welcoming people from across the world, the government needs to stop putting children and vulnerable people at risk.”
She has called on the home secretary to carry out risk assessments on every person placed in contingency hotels and to confirm that single men will no longer be placed in hotels with children and families.
The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, called it “a truly horrific report”.
“This comes just weeks after it was reported that hundreds of children went missing from a Home-Office-run hotel, still unaccounted for,” she said. “The Home Office needs to take urgent action to protect the children in its care.”
A person was charged on Sunday, 11 September with one count of sexual touching of a child under 13, the Met said.
A spokesperson added: “He was bailed by the court to appear at Stratford magistrates court on Wednesday 9 November. The charge relates to an incident at a hotel in Waltham Forest on Friday 9 September. The victim is being supported by specialist officers.”
The force said it received a report of rape at the same hotel on 5 October. A spokesperson said: “Officers attended and spoke to the victim, a boy in his teens, and his family. Specialist support is being provided. A man, aged in his 30s, was arrested at the scene and taken into custody. He was bailed to return on a date in early January 2023.”
The Home Office and Clearsprings declined to comment.