Two restaurants lose their licences over concerns about illegal workers

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A Lebanese restaurant chain has lost licences for two of its sites in County Durham after concerns about illegal workers.

In August last year, two restaurants which are part of the Lebaneat chain were raided by the Home Office and illegal workers found at both the North Bailey and Claypath outlets.

Two people suspected of working illegally were discovered at each site, prompting the council to review the licences of both restaurants.

During consultation, Durham Police and the Home Office called for the licences to be removed.

Durham restauranter Ahmed Sayed, who owns three branches of Lebaneat in the city, is currently facing a combined fine of £30,000 following the Home Office visits.

This includes £20,000 for the Wrap House in Claypath and another £10,000 in relation to the North Bailey premises.

Councillors from Durham County Council’s Statutory Licensing Sub-Committee voted to revoke both licences.

The meeting heard that Lebaneat was served a notice warning in 2016 after one if its workers was found to have overstayed his visa.

And after the visit by officers in August last year, it emerged the licence for the Claypath premises had not been paid in two years.

Mr Sayed told the meeting that several checks and balances had been put in place since the raids, including employing an operations manager.

The role covers recruitment and standards at the restaurants, and forms part of the chain’s plans to expand, with a new management structure and head office.

A licensing visit in January this year also found no issues with the premises, the meeting heard.

Mr Sayed said the loss of licences could see staff “lose their livelihoods”, with the chain currently employing around 80 people.

He said: “I do apologise that it has taken to this point for me to get my act together. The whole experience has been a big lesson for us.”

Christopher Morrison, representing Mr Sayed, also confirmed Lebaneat has paid a legal firm to provide extra scrutiny to its employment practices in future.

He added: “Lebaneat has a good future providing it lives and learns from its mistakes, and it has shown it can and it has.”

Durham Police maintained their objections, accusing Mr Sayed of disrupting the licensing process.

This included an application being withdrawn by the applicants in November 2018 following a failed bid to vary its premises licence and designated premises supervisor months earlier.

Committee chairman Coun Pauline Crathorne, reading her verdict, said: “We understand you have put procedures in place to address the concerns of employment of illegal workers.

“However, given the history of these premises under Mr Sayed’s management, the committee feels that the licensing objectives will not be met.

“We also have concerns that he has breached licensing conditions and is exploiting the licensing laws.

“The committee has considered all the options available, and we feel that revocation is the only option to promote the crime and disorder objectives.”

Applications to transfer the premises licence for the Claypath restaurant and to name Mr Sayed as the designated premises supervisor were also rejected.

Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporting Service