Hastings Indian restaurant stripped of licence

A Hastings restaurant has been stripped of its licence after it was fined for employing staff with no right to work in the UK, writes local democracy reporter Huw Oxburgh.

Ocean Spice Indian restaurant
Ocean Spice Indian restaurant

On Friday (January 24), a panel of Hastings Borough Council’s licensing committee agreed to revoke the licence of the Ocean Spice restaurant at 43 White Rock.

The hearing came at the request of HM Immigration after the restaurant was issued with £95,000 in fines for breaches of employment law. The extent of these breaches were disputed by the restaurant’s owner Siddiqur Rahman, however.

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Putting forward the case for revoking the licence, Inspector Elliott Andrews of the South East Immigration, Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) Team argued the measure would be ‘proportionate and necessary’.

Ocean Spice, Hastings. SUS-160119-160404001

He said: “We are seeking a full revocation of the licence, I believe that to be a proportionate and necessary response to the evidence submitted today.

“These breaches of employment regulations took place over a long period of time.

“From the first enforcement visit to the most recent one was a 13-month time period. On each occasion the business was issued with a substantial financial penalty.”

Insp Andrews told the sub-committee that immigration officers had visited the premises three times between October 2018 and November 2019. 

Following the first two visits, the Home Office issued the business with fines totalling £75,000. A further fine of £20,000 was issued following a third visit in November, he said.

The fines were all issued as the restaurant had been employing people with no right to work in the UK, Insp Andrews said.

Insp Andrews said none of the civil penalties had either been paid or appealed against in the courts.

Owner still intends to appeal fines

A contrary view was put forward by James Tamplin, a solicitor speaking on behalf of Mr Rahman.

Mr Tamplin said Mr Rahman disputed the conclusions of some of these cases and still intended to appeal against the penalties.

Mr Tamplin added that Mr Rahman had believed the penalties were being appealed by his accountant and only learned they were not after seeking formal legal advice in connection with the licensing hearing. 

According to Mr Tamplin, staff had given false assurances and – on at least one occasion – false details before working at the restaurant.

Mr Tamplin added that at least one of the staff had only been working ‘on a trial basis’ at the time of the enforcement visit and was not – in Mr Rahman’s view – an employee.

Mr Tamplin added that it was intended to put a new recruitment policy in place to ensure all future staff are eligible to work in the UK. Mr Tamplin suggested this could be made part of the conditions of the premises licence to reassure the committee.

Call for alternatives to revoking licence

Alternatively the committee could appoint a new DPS or suspend the licence for a time, Mr Tamplin said.

Mr Tamplin said: “Ultimately this the first strike against a licensee who has not had any issues in the past and I would say that revocation in this matter is too strong a step to take.

“The immigration and police authorities are right to draw your attention to previous guidance and this is a serious matter, however it is not so serious that only revocation will do.

“In this matter, as I have said, imposing conditions is sufficient to allow the business to continue and for there to be no issues in the future.”

Mr Tamplin also stressed that there was no suggestion that the workers had been exploited by Mr Rahman through their employment.

Police supports stripping restaurant’s licence

During the hearing, the sub-committee also heard representations from Inspector Rob Lovell of Sussex Police licensing team.

Insp Lovell told the committee that Sussex Police supported the calls for revoking the restaurant’s licence on the grounds of preventing crime and disorder.

Insp Lovell also listed a number of alleged violent incidents which police considered to be linked to the premises. None of these incidents had led to any criminal convictions, however.

Mr Tamplin argued that as there had not been convictions, the incidents should be given little consideration by the sub-committee.

After hearing from all concerned, the sub-committee retired for around 30 minutes before making its decision.

Committee revokes licence

Giving its view, chairman Andy Patmore said: “The committee has listened carefully to all the submissions but we believe revocation is the only option available to the committee at this time.

“The licensing objectives have been seriously undermined. Our role is to solely to determine what steps should be taken in connection with the premises licence for the prevention of crime objective.

“The committee was shocked to read the witness statements that the police and immigration services were subject to a hostile reception and a lack of cooperation.

“We were particularly shocked by the number alleged violent incidents and although we are not here to pass judgement of guilt pertaining to any of those incidents we can be mindful when making our decision. 

“Licensing guidance states that employing somebody who is disqualified from work by reason of their immigration status in the UK should be treated particularly seriously.

“There have been three occasions where the applicant has been deemed to have employed illegal workers over a prolonged period of time and we have seen no formal evidence of past appeals being lodged and the fines have still remained outstanding. 

“While we have been asked to consider certain conditions on the licence, we believe any conditions would not stop the licensing objectives being undermined in the future, because the premises would still be under the same organisational control.”

Restaurant can still stay open

The restaurant had been licensed for late night refreshments, sale of alcohol, and performance of live and recorded music, up until 2am.

The loss of the licence will not mean the restaurant has to stop operating completely, although it will not be able to continue with any licenced activities.

These include the sale of alcohol, live entertainment or late night refreshments (i.e. serving food after 11pm).

The restaurant can also appeal the sub-committee decisions and can continue to operate licensed activities until any appeal is determined by the courts.