In accordance with Section 51 of the Licensing Act 2003, the Council has received an application from Kent Police, as a responsible authority, for a review of the existing premises licence in respect of Taj Cuisine, 1 Sherwood House, Walderslade, Chatham, Kent, ME5 9UD. All responsible authorities have been consulted in line with the Licensing Act 2003.
The Chairman asked those present to introduce themselves and explained the process that the hearing would follow as outlined in the agenda.
The Licensing Officer stated that, in accordance with Section 51 of the Licensing Act 2003, the Council had received an application from Kent Police, as a responsible authority, for a review of the existing Premises Licence for Taj Cuisine, 1 Sherwood House, Walderslade, Chatham, Kent, ME5 9UD. She advised that the grounds for the review related to two of the four licensing objectives:
· The prevention of crime and disorder
· Public safety
The application had been correctly advertised for the required timescale by placing notices at the premises, Council contact points and on the Council’s website in accordance with regulations made under the Licensing Act 2003. Also in accordance with the legislation, notice of the application (and the application itself) had been served on the relevant parties for the licensed premises along with the other responsible authorities.
The following documents were included in the agenda pack for the Panel’s consideration: -
The Licensing Officer drew the Panel’s attention to the grounds for the review in relation to the licensing objectives of the Licensing Act 2003 and also to paragraph 3 of the agenda report - Advice and analysis on determination of review application, which set out the options for the Panel.
The Chairman invited the representatives from Kent Police to present the application for a licence review. PC Hunt outlined the visits to the premises by Home Office Immigration Officers executing a warrant. He had also been in attendance for a visit on 18 January 2019 when a total of four people had been found to be working at the premises illegally. All four persons had been interviewed at the scene and admitted to working at the premises. PC Hunt informed the Panel that he had subsequently met the owner and Designated Premises Supervisor, Mr Monsur, on 29 January 2019 to conduct a premises licence compliance check. This had found that, contrary to Condition 5 of the licence, the CCTV system appeared to be faulty. PC Hunt advised that Immigration Officers had executed a further warrant on 15 February 2019 when one person was found to be working illegally. Mr Monsur had claimed that this person was a relative of the chef who was getting some food for himself. As a result of the two warrants, Taj Cuisine had been served with two separate Civil Penalty Notices.
PC Hunt presented evidence from Immigration Officers of previous occasions when persons had been found to be working at the premises illegally. These were on 27 August 2008 and 22 February 2013.
With reference to sections 11.24, 11.27 and 11.28 of the Guidance to the Licensing Act 2003 and detailing the implications of employing illegal workers, PC Hunt said that Kent Police were seeking revocation of the Premises Licence as allowing the premises to continue to operate with the benefits of a licence would merely serve to perpetuate the activity. He observed that there had been four occasions when illegal workers had been found to be working at the premises and concluded that these were not merely cases of mistakes or lack of knowledge but deliberate ignorance or actual knowledge of the fact.
There being no questions from Mr Monsur or Mr Ali, PC Hunt responded to questions from the Panel. He advised that, during the visit to the premises on 18 January 2019, in addition to the four persons who were detained, two others had run from the premises and were never located.
The Chairman invited Mr Ali to respond to the review application on behalf of the Premises Licence Holder, Mr Monsur. He referred to a submission sent to the Licensing Unit the previous evening. With the agreement of the Police representatives the Panel accepted this submission and the hearing was adjourned for a short time to allow for it to be read. Mr Alibegan by providing some background to the Taj Cuisine which had been trading for 20 years. He highlighted the current difficulties that Indian restaurants were experiencing in finding skilled staff. He added that the Taj Cuisine was very successful and had won many awards. He suggested that staff almost saw the owners as family and when asked for documentation to assess their correct immigration status, this led to resentment as a perceived sign of disrespect. He stressed that the staff found to be illegal were not ill-treated nor was it suggested by the officials that they fell under the modern day Slavery Act. These were instances where the owner was faced with the harsh and difficult reality of operating a busy restaurant with not enough people to serve and cook.
Mr Ali said that Mr Monsur admitted his shortcomings and understood the gravity of employing illegal staff and failing to carry our stringent checks on potential staff. He was very sorry to have failed in his duties but wished to improve in any way that he could. He set out some suggested solutions to future recruitment and advised that Mr Monsur had instructed a recruitment agency to carry out the initial checks and immigration status checks to take away the burden of initial contact from Mr Monsur. It was suggested that this action was a very positive demonstration of how he was able to realise what needed to be done in order to save ten jobs from redundancy should the premises license be revoked.
Mr Ali said that Mr Monsur would also agree to appoint an independent Designated Premises Supervisor to hold the license in order to adhere to the conditions of that role. In addition, it might also be an option to issue a formal or informal warning on the basis that should there be any further breaches of the licensing responsibilities then revocation may be the only option.
In conclusion, Mr Ali said that, should the Panel not feel it appropriate to consider any of these options as an immediate solution to the problem, then Mr Monsur would be forced to sell the business to a third party which, if left closed, would result in the loss of business for the new owner and the sale might fall through without a client base to serve. It was therefore recommended that, should sale be the only option, the Panel allow a transition period of six weeks for the sale to proceed and the new owner to make the necessary licensing applications in their respective names so that the business did not suffer from closure and loss of clientele. This would mean the premises and alcohol license would remain effective until the sale transaction was concluded through solicitors.
There being no questions from the Police representatives, Mr Ali responded to questions from the Panel. He said that the industry had changed considerably in the last 20 years and recruitment was now more difficult. Mr Monsur asked recruits for whatever documentation they had and took a picture of it on his phone. Staff were treated like family and were not exploited or paid in food. Asked why Mr Monsur had not used the services of a recruitment agency earlier, Mr Ali said that he had not appreciated the gravity of the situation. Now, all staff had their own file which included copies of the correct documentation. Immediately after the visit on 29 January 2019, the CCTV system had been repaired and a maintenance contract was now in place.
Summing up, PC Hunt questioned whether a new DPS would be effective as Mr Monsur would still be in overall control as owner. He questioned whether any new measures would have been put in place if a review had not been called for. He questioned why advice given by Immigration Officers following earlier visits had not been followed.
Mr Ali summed up by suggesting that revocation would not be the right answer and proposed a change in DPS with stringent guidelines. It had been hard for Mr Monsur to admit that there was a problem but the review had been a wakeup call for him. He had run the business for 20 years and although he had not kept paperwork very well, he had given a lot to the community and to the people he had employed.
The Chairman asked all parties to leave the room during the Panel’s deliberations. They returned for the Chairman’s announcement of the Panel’s decision.
1. In reviewing the current premises licence for Taj Cuisine, 1 Sherwood House, Walderslade, Chatham, Kent, ME5 9UD, the Panel considered all the written evidence before it and had listened carefully to all the oral evidence presented by Kent Police and the Premises Licence Holder’s representative and unanimously decided to revoke the premises licence for Taj Cuisine.
2. The Panel noted the actions that had been put in place at the premises to overcome the issues, but concluded that, in view of the evidence presented by Kent Police, including the visits by the Home Office Immigration Officers, and in line with the statutory guidance referred to in the application for review, revocation of the premises licence was appropriate.