Restaurant raid finds illegal workers

FIVE members of staff at a restaurant in Beer have been found to be illegal workers.

Officers from the UK Border Agency targeted Spice Merchant, in Fore Street, at around 5.30pm on Friday. The immigration status of staff was checked and all five Bangladeshi men on duty at the time were found to have stayed in the UK after their visas had expired.

Four men, aged 22, 31, 33 and 34 were arrested and taken to Heavitree Police Station in Exeter. They remain in immigration detention pending their removal from the UK. A fifth 42-year-old man was not arrested but was stopped from working and placed on immigration bail while an outstanding immigration application is considered. If he is found to have no legal right to remain in the UK, he will be removed.

All five men were seen preparing food when the officers entered the business. Co-owner Shahid Ullah said that the men had been taken on as temporary summer help. It was normal for him to hire people short-term who have the required cookery skills, He’d asked to see their work documentation but the raid happened before they’d produced it. “At this stage I don’t know if they’re illegal or not,” he said. “Of course they should have had their paper work to hand, but I was so busy doing my job that I couldn’t concentrate on that.”

He said the situation was embarassing for the business and that he would make doubly sure that all the paperwork was in place before hiring staff in the future. “This a is a big lesson,” he said.

Spice Merchant was served with a civil penalty notice for employing five illegal workers. If the employers are unable to provide evidence that legally-required checks were carried out before giving the workers jobs, a fine of up to �10,000 for each offender will be imposed.

Neighbourhood beat manager PC Steve Speariett said that the raid was evidence of co-operation between police and the agency.

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He said: “We work in partnership with the agency and if we or they do an operation, out of courtesy we let the other know. Police officers went along as a support, and as part of the follow-up I went down to see the owners.

“I told them that they have got a responsibility if they employ staff to check that they are above board.”

He said this applied to all businesses, especially in the tourism and food industry, where there was a particular issue with workers who weren’t entitled to be there.

Jane Farleigh, regional director of the border agency in Wales and the South West, said: “If people want to work in the UK, there are ways they can come here legitimately. If they decide to flout the law, we will find them and look to remove them from the country.

“Any employer who takes on a foreign national without permission to work in the UK is undermining law-abiding businesses and faces a big fine.”