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Taj Cuisine in Chatham has alcohol licence revoked after immigration raids find illegal workers

By Dean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter

The future of a popular tandoori restaurant is uncertain following immigration raids carried out earlier this year.

Taj Cuisine in Walderslade Road, Chatham, was found to be employing four people illegally by officers in January, with one of those still working there during a follow-up inspection just four weeks later.

Having already been caught hiring illegal workers back in 2008 and 2013, Kent Police have successfully applied for the restaurant to have its alcohol and late-night refreshment licences revoked.

Taj Cuisine in Chatham. Picture: Steve Crispe
Taj Cuisine in Chatham. Picture: Steve Crispe

The decision – made by Medway Council’s licensing hearing panel yesterday – is likely to have a major impact on the viability of the business run by award-winning chef Abul Monsur.

Licensing officer PC Daniel Hunt said: “It is apparent through the repeated detection of illegal workers at Taj Cuisine that both Taj Cuisine Limited and Abul Monsur have a total disregard and lack of responsibility for ensuring that persons working at the premises are legitimately available for employment.

“The account from those found working illegally provides an insight into the poor conditions and pay they were enduring, which effectively traps these persons and can provide exploitation opportunities.

“Having considered the available options, Kent Police seek revocation of the premises licence. Allowing the premises to continue operating with the benefits of a premises licence will merely serve to perpetuate this activity.”

Taj Cuisine owner Abul Monsur. Picture: Steve Crispe
Taj Cuisine owner Abul Monsur. Picture: Steve Crispe

Some of those working illegally at the restaurant in January said they were being paid “£100 a week” and “receiving food” – claims denied by Mr Monsur’s legal representative Gous Ali.

An investigation is still ongoing, but the Bangladeshi-Indian restaurant has already been warned it faces a fine in the “tens of thousands of pounds”.

The hearing was told that Mr Monsur took photos of employee documents on a mobile phone which “he no longer has access to”, but had improved checks following Kent Police’s request for a licence review.

Mr Ali admitted his client “needs a good slap to say he needs to wake up”, but argued taking away Taj Cuisine’s licences was not the right course of action – instead pleading for a “last chance”.

He added: “He’s learned from his mistakes. When somebody does something they’re good at – and you can see he’s done well for 20 years – that deserved some kind of, like, credit for when this travesty has happened to him.

Officers from the Home Office raided the restaurant in Walderslade Road, Chatham, in January
Officers from the Home Office raided the restaurant in Walderslade Road, Chatham, in January

“He genuinely is remorseful and regretful for not having his eyes open further. You have to remember this gentleman is more of a chef than someone that is good at the HR, legals, and paperwork.

“He knows very well what the procedures are and he has sought legal advice so we can guide him as to how actually to run his business according to the Employment Rights Act.

“If we can help this gentleman get back to running his business correctly by guiding and supporting him, I think we’ll have a better outcome than just ramification.”

The panel accepted there was no evidence of exploitation – something Mr Monsur was “very upset” about being accused of – but revoked the licences “in line with statutory guidance”.

Cllr Kirstine Carr (Con) said: "I'm a little concerned that after 20 years, he still hasn't managed to get it right. It's a bit long not to know the rules or be able to check what's going on."

As per all licensing decisions made by Medway Council, the outcome can be appealed.

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