Home Office agents say the business has been fined £10,000 for employing undocumented workers
A Preston takeaway which was ordered to stop late night trading over crime concerns was previously fined £10,000 for exploiting staff through modern slavery, according to a Home Office report.
A cleaner at Bianco were paid as little as £10 per day for 12 hour shifts after entering the UK via a small boat. The man is said to have absconded from a hotel while awaiting an asylum application decision and was given a job despite having no ID or documentation. He told immigration officers he’d fled because he feared being sent to Rwanda.
A second man who came into the UK in the back of a lorry was also allowed to work at the takeaway despite having no legal right to do so. A Home Office report submitted to Preston City Council said the working conditions described by the men “clearly point towards exploitation and modern slavery” by shop owner Rugda Almashhadani.
The takeaway lost its late night licence earlier this month when magistrates granted a closure order requested by Lancashire Constabulary after a string of violent incidents connected to the premises. That order last for two months and only relates to the hours of 11pm to 5am meaning the shop can continue to trade during the daytime.
Preston City Council must now decide on what long-term action to take to deal with the issues at the shop. A meeting due to be held on Monday (January 23) was adjourned to allow Mr Almashhadani’s representative to attend in person. However, documents submitted to the sub-committee have been published and detail the allegations placed against the business and its owner.
Meanwhile, a police reports explains how a High Court Enforcement Agent called for help after being locked inside the premises by staff who had knives and took his body worn camera and mobile phone off him. Other police incidents include a delivery driver receiving a death threat from the shop owner over customer complaints.
In another incident recorded by the police allegedly saw the owner, when challenged about overdue pay, grab a staff member by the neck and threaten to her insert his finger “up the complainant’s a***”. A series of other incidents of alleged violence involving staff members ensued of over the following months. In September, staff from the North West Immigration Compliance and Enforcement Team and found two of the three staff members had no right to be working there.
On that occasion, the licence holder was said to be “highly combative and refused to engage” and matters escalated when they returned six weeks later. According to a report by PC Stephen Connolly, the licensing officer for Lancashire Constabulary: “Lancashire Constabulary received a report from a High Court Enforcement Agent who had attended the premises.
“The complainant stated that they had been locked inside the premises by staff and were holding knives, that the complainant felt threatened, and that staff had taken his body worn camera and mobile phone off him. Officers attended and remained on site to prevent a Breach of the Peace. This was recorded as threats with a blade or sharply pointed article in a public place and Theft.”
Weeks later, a member of the public complained about their food and, after an argument, told police they had been “kicked, spat at and sprayed with unknown substance” by a staff member who then punched him in the face. In December, another member of the public reported being hit with a machete and officers arrived to find a man with a large cut on his had. PC Connolly wrote: “CCTV at the premises was reviewed and officers describe it as a staff member at the premises held a broom in their hand and is seen hitting the victim with it.”
After this incident, police requested a closure order which was granted by magistrates following the Christmas and New Year break. When the licensing review was launched, the Home Office offered its own report which detailed their dealing with the business and its owner.
Of the first visit in September, is states: “A male who became highly combative and refused to engage with the officers or answer inquiries about his identity or position within the company resisted their attempts to reason with him. When asked if he was the company’s owner or manager, he didn’t confirm or dispute this.
“Officers then formed the impression that this man, appeared to be in a position of authority, whether as a manager or owner, based on how some of the staff members who were authorised to work responded to his commands. The male being aggressive towards his own staff working in the kitchen area in the presence of Immigration Officers was non-compliant with the team and made it impossible for the Immigration Officers to complete their enquires to the required standard, as during the visit two of the three subjects encountered did not have any permission to work.
“A licence owner should comply with responsible authorities and the terms and conditions of the licence. In this case, the disruption of Rugda Almashhadani, the director and manager, caused goes against the role as a license holder, obstructing officers whilst conducting their duties as per the Licensing Act 2003. i.e. It is an offence to intentionally obstruct the entry of an authorised person to investigate unauthorised use of premises for licensable activity.
“Currently the business has been served with a £10,000 penalty issued on 26 October 2022. maintained on 4 November 2022 following an objection by the employer. An appeal has not been lodged since.”
Some letters of support for the business have been submitted to the sub-committee, including one which states the business owner is involved in sponsoring community teams and has fundraised for Ukrainian refugees. A separate letter, submitted by a lecturer using official University of Central Lancashire paperwork, states: “I am writing to you in full support of keeping Bianco open for the 24 Hours service as it is one of the main services our students relay on it for there main meals and late night refreshments.
“In support this place always kept my students happy and feeling safe during the night and family with children save during the day time. Myself and students being a regular eater in Bianco, we always experience excellent services and safe to eat during the night.”
The adjourned hearing will take place on February 6. Mr Almashhadani has previously told LancsLive said that the business will fight against any attempt to remove the licence. The business has instructed Mike Thorpe, of MRT Licensing Services, to represent it at the licensing hearing. Mr Thorpe successfully represented Tulketh Tap Room against a similar application to remove its licence in December.
- 05:50, 24 JAN 2023