Storrington and Ashington Indian restaurants’ premises licences have been revoked after immigration officials found illegal workers employed at three separate visits.
This means that both the Cottage Tandoori in West Street, Storrington and the Indian Cottage, in London Road, Ashington, can still remain open but can no longer sell alcohol, or provide food and refreshments after 11pm,
The decisions made by separate Horsham District Council Licensing Sub-Committees today (Friday September 29) can still be appealed.
The committees heard from Home Office officials how both restaurants had been visited three times each by immigration enforcement teams, with illegal workers found on each visit.
Barrister Kris Berlevy, speaking on behalf of Kaher Zaman who is the premises licence holder for both restaurants, explained how Mr Zaman had ‘taken his eye off the ball despite an unblemished 30 year history’ due to a mixture of personal circumstances and family matters.
He added: “Unfortunately he put himself and his business in jeopardy by not keeping his hand firmly on the tiller and steering the ship as it went.”
Elliot Andrews, chief immigration officer for the Kent and Sussex Immigration Compliance Enforcement Team at the Home Office, detailed their six visits in total to the Cottage Tandoori and the Indian Cottage.
On July 14, 2016 they found six people working illegally at the Cottage Tandoori, on November 18 five illegal workers were identified, and on May 31, earlier this year, the enforcement team found two people working there illegally.
For the first two incidents Mr Zaman’s company was fined a total of £160,000, which has not yet been paid.
Immigration teams visited the Indian Cottage on August 25, 2016, October 26, and June 22, 2017, finding four, four, and one illegal workers respectively.
For the first two visits fines totalling £120,000 have been issued, none of which has been paid so far.
He explained how the evidence threshold for issuing civil penalties in these cases is ‘incredibly high’, and that information for employers on the correct procedures was available with a ‘relatively simple Google search’.
Mr Berlevy argued that while it was accepted some of those identified were working illegally, Mr Zaman disputed the fact that several others present were actually working at the Cottage Tandoori.
He said: “The reality is for right or for wrong he has made mistakes on two occasions. He has now put them right. The suggestion of a suspension or a revocation would be far too heavy handed to meet the licensing objectives.”
Meanwhile on the Indian Cottage application, he suggested a suspension or revocation would be ‘draconian in the extreme’.
But the committees disagreed in both cases.
Philip Circus (Con, Chanctonbury) said: “We all make mistakes. To err is human but the trouble is there have been a number of instances which rather suggests you have had your eye off the ball for quite a long time.
“It makes it quite difficult for us to look at this and say it’s an isolated instance.”
Mr Zaman said the Indian restaurant industry was facing a ‘crisis’ in staffing shortages and described the ‘pressures of trying to run the business and keep it open’.
He explained that new staff would usually be taken on for a trial period, and in some instances prospective employees would say they did not have the correct documentation on them at the time and would provide it later.
He continued: “I make sure anybody who comes into the premises looking for a job and applying for a job has to show their paperwork before they even do a trial period. Before all that did not happen.
“I hold my hands up and accept that responsibility.”
Mr Circus suggested Mr Zaman had ‘accepted on the face of it some quite feeble excuses’ from employees without proper paperwork.
Mr Zaman responded: “I should have taken more robust and firm decisions and said: ‘No if that’s the case you provide me the paperwork otherwise you are not allowed to work’. I should have done that.”