Restaurant owner considers appeal after licence is revoked by council following immigration raid
- Credit: Archant
Uttlesford District Council has revoked the licence of a restaurant in Dunmow after illegal workers were found on the premises for a fourth time in five years.
The licensing review was called by Essex Police after enforcement officers found four illegal immigrants working at the Jalsa Ghar restaurant in Stortford Road during a raid in July.
The case was heard by the licensing and environmental health committee at the district council on Tuesday.
Evidence was presented by Essex Police and an immigration officer who detained one of the illegal workers during the raid.
The licence holders, Ziual Islam Chowdhury and Omar Shorif, were also present with legal representation.
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Authorities were alerted to the situation after a tip-off to the Home Office in May, which suggested there were illegal workers at the site and that many of them had fake identification and paperwork.
Home Office records showed that illegal workers had been found at the restaurant, which was opened in 1998, on three others occasions in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
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In December 2013, eight immigration offenders were found.
In July 2014, four were found and in 2016, three were found.
It was Essex Police’s view, therefore, that there was evidence of “total disregard for previous warnings and guidance” after finding illegal workers for the fourth time and they called for the restaurant’s licence to be revoked.
“Given previous encounters with the immigration service, it is impossible to believe that the employment of illegal workers was unintentional,” a representative from Essex Police said. “This was wilful negligence and a deliberate act to ignore the legislation.”
The immigration officer also told the committee about the raid on July 6.
“Eight officers executed a search warrant and found four illegal male workers at the property, who were all Bangladeshi, and one of the workers managed to escape by running across a main road, but we identified him using a passport found in accommodation above the restaurant,” an officer said.
Two of the men were taken into custody.
Essex Police said one of the illegal workers was entitled to £7.83 an hour but his wages were only £150 per week. They said these would be sufficient only if he were working 19 hours a week but instead he was required to work almost twice that – 36 hours.
According to the immigration officers and the police, the illegal workers provided different accounts of how long they had worked at the premises; five months, four days and one day.
Six members of the public spoke in support of Mr Chowdhury at the licensing meeting, with one calling him a “very personable chap”, pointing out his work sponsoring the local football team.
Many spoke about the closure of pubs in Dunmow and how revoking the licence at the Jalsa Ghar restaurant and pub would be a “terrific loss to the community”.
The committee also heard that Mr Chowdhury plans to host a charity fundraiser at the restaurant next month for a young girl in the community.
Mr Chowdhury told the committee he had never knowingly employed illegal workers.
“20 years of hard work hasn’t paid off and we have made mistakes. I am not going to pretend we’re perfect but we are fixing the mistakes and we have learned,” he said. “I am really sorry, from the bottom of my heart. I have let the company down and my family down. But I have learned from it. In 2013, we were naive.
“I beg you the opportunity to put it right and correct my mistake.”
Mr Sharif, joint license owner at Jalsa Ghar, said: “If the licence and the pub was taken away, everyone will suffer. I have three children. They are still at school and we pay our bills, our mortgages from the pub.
“I’m asking for you to give us one more opportunity and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The pair said they have now employed a company who will update them every three months with any changes in law that may affect them and confirmed that nine of their 13 employees are now British citizens.
The decision notice from the licensing and environmental health committee said: “The evidence we have seen shows that the individuals concerned admitted working without the proper immigration checks having been undertaken, and furthermore, that one of them also admitted to working less than minimum wage, i.e for board and lodging, which is also a breach of other employee rights legislation.
“We cannot overlook the fact that this is not a first offence: this is the fourth time immigration officers have visited the premises.
“This committee’s primary function is the protection of the public. Though we are not a court and the standard of proof before us is the civil one of the balance of probabilities, we are satisfied that Mr Chowdhury engaged the people referred to in the police submissions to work unlawfully in this country.”
In response to the decision, Mr Chowdhury said: “20 years of hard work and one silly mistake has cost us our livelihood.
“I am speechless, I am still in shock and we are gutted.
“Our legal team are looking at what our next steps will be.”
Mr Chowdhury and Mr Shorif have 21 days to appeal the decision and the licence will remain in place for that time.