Migrants’ four-star ‘Downton’ hotel: Why does Britain have a migrant crisis? Perhaps it’s because arrivals are put up in ‘holding centres’ like this Lincolnshire mansion, writes MICHAEL POWELL
With its manicured lawns and Downton Abbey-style splendour, Stoke Rochford Hall Hotel & Golf Resort nestles majestically in acres of rolling Lincolnshire countryside.
Its website calls it ‘a luxury Victorian country mansion, set within beautiful formal landscaped gardens… the perfect place to enjoy life with our exceptional hospitality, cuisine and facilities’.
It hosted the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when they attended the wedding of Harry’s cousin Lady Celia McCorquodale in 2018. The estate was the ancestral seat of her father Neil McCorquodale, an uncle to William and Harry, whose wife is Princess Diana’s sister, Lady Sarah McCorquodale.
In recent years the Grade I-listed mansion near Grantham has been run as a wedding venue and a £165-a-night, four-star hotel.
But there will be no wedding parties or paying guests at Stoke Rochford Hall any time soon.
With its manicured lawns and Downton Abbey-style splendour, Stoke Rochford Hall Hotel & Golf Resort nestles majestically in acres of rolling Lincolnshire countryside
It is one of several country mansions and luxury hotels being used to house asylum-seekers as desperate Home Office officials battle to accommodate the flood of migrants coming to Britain.
Rishi Sunak last week revealed 4,500 more hotel beds have been commandeered to meet the need since September, as councils providing accommodation told of being at breaking point. The crisis costs taxpayers £5.6 million a day, or £2 billion a year, to keep 35,000 migrants in UK hotels.
The number of migrants arriving by boat has doubled this year to nearly 40,000. Ministers anticipate a record 50,000 will have crossed the Channel by the end of the year.
The frantic search for more hotel rooms has led to thousands being put up in unlikely grandeur, but the use of four-star hotels has dismayed Home Secretary Suella Braverman who said it was ‘not an acceptable use of taxpayers’ money’.
One in four of the hotels housing migrants is rated four-star or above.
Among them is 97-room Stoke Rochford Hall, which the Government recently booked out till the end of the year. Such was the urgency, the firm running the hotel, Talash Group, cancelled three weddings weeks before couples were due to marry. A security guard said the hotel was ‘just for Home Office people’. He said they were migrants from Albania, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, adding: ‘They are homeless people from all over.’
It is one of several country mansions and luxury hotels being used to house asylum-seekers as desperate Home Office officials battle to accommodate the flood of migrants coming to Britain (Pictured: Albanian migrants Lummye (left), and Sokol Kopani, who have been married for 11 years outside Stoke Rochford Hall which is being used to house them)
The hotel has been run since 2016 by Talash Group, owned by brothers Ravi and Sanjay Kathuria from the West Midlands, who signed a 999-year lease.
Albanian asylum-seekers Sokol Kopani, 50, and his wife of 11 years Lumnije, 51, said they ‘loved’ staying there.
The couple from the port city of Durrës are with their ten-year-old son, and said nine more Albanian families are at the hotel.
They said they crossed the Channel in a migrant boat in September and were initially housed at the Ramada hotel in Hounslow, West London, before being moved to Stoke Rochford Hall last month.
Mr Kopani said: ‘We feel very lucky to be in such a lovely place. We love the countryside. People are very nice. We have a room with a television and can go for walks.’
He said he had been forced to emigrate because he was being hunted by Albanian mafia loan sharks over £20,000 he borrowed for a business venture. He claimed the gang had threatened to harm his son after he ran into problems repaying the loan.
He said: ‘We came to England because we are safer than in Europe. The Albanian mafia is in Italy, Germany and France but not so much here.’ He claimed a friend arranged their Channel trip on a people-smuggling boat but would not say how much it cost.
It hosted the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when they attended the wedding of Harry’s cousin Lady Celia McCorquodale in 2018
Members of £900-a-year Stoke Rochford golf club said there had been some issues with asylum-seekers straying on to fairways. Some hotel children are also said to have played in bunkers.
But the club’s head professional James Bennett said problems had eased since the club spoke to the management company responsible for housing the migrants.
Another four-star hotel taken over by asylum seekers is Mercure Newton Park, a 1700s Italianate-style manor house in the picturesque Derbyshire village of Newton Solney, near Burton-on-Trent.
Fifty rooms at the manor, in eight acres of parkland, are occupied by men in their late teens to early 40s from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
They share meals in the oak-panelled dining room behind gated grounds. A duty manager said he couldn’t discuss who was now living at the hotel, saying: ‘It is a private, exclusive booking.’ Villagers nearby said no one was given notice of the Home Office takeover or how long the hotel would be closed to the public.
One man said: ‘It was a shock when we started seeing immigrants because you don’t know if it’s going to mean blokes wandering around with nothing to do. Actually, there have been no reports of trouble.’
Its website calls it ‘a luxury Victorian country mansion, set within beautiful formal landscaped gardens… the perfect place to enjoy life with our exceptional hospitality, cuisine and facilities’
The imposing 19th century Woughton House Hotel, in Milton Keynes, has also been closed to the public for several months, with a steady stream of migrants being booked in, instead of the usual wedding guests. Occupants have rigged up a washing line in the plush grounds. Migrants are also at seasides as officials take advantage of off-season to block-book hotels.
Around 50 asylum-seekers from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia are staying in the pink-painted Esplanade Hotel overlooking the beach in Paignton, south Devon.
Oby Padsha, 20, from Afghanistan, said the hotel was ‘superb’, adding: ‘We have everything we need. The rooms are very good and the meals are enjoyable.’
Another Afghan, who declined to give his name, said: ‘It feels almost like we are on a holiday.’ In Ilfracombe, north Devon, refugees have started arriving at the Dilkhusa Grand near the seafront – despite the Home Office telling locals last month that it was not going to use the Victorian hotel.
One Afghan man, 22, said: ‘We feel welcome and safe. This is a good hotel and a beautiful town.’
Two weeks ago, the town’s mayor Dan Turton received a letter from the Home Office stating: ‘We will not be using the hotel to accommodate destitute asylum-seekers.’
But officials started moving people in last week. Tory councillor Paul Crabb said: ‘It feels like we’re being treated with contempt.’
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