The legal representative of a Bromley restaurant suspected of housing multiple illegal workers has accused the local authority of being “aggressive” by pushing for their premises licence to be stripped.

Award-winning Westerham restaurant Shampan at the Spinning Wheel fronted Bromley’s licensing committee after a March 13 raid by by council officers, police and immigration authorities.

The incident saw four men detained on suspicion of being illegal workers, while 25 beds were also found in the premises – with the council alleging the “vast majority” were being used by residents living at the business.

Council officers also found safety issues regarding gas and electrical appliances used in the restaurant.

However the legal representative for Shampan, Patrick Whur, poked at a lack of evidence on the allegations that illegal workers were living at the site, and urged councillors to remember an investigation into it was ongoing.

Mr Whur called the business “a real company of substance”, adding it was one of the three Shampan restaurants operating in south-east London.

He said “it would be disproportionate and unfair” for the council to jump straight to revocation of the licence, saying the investigation was ongoing, while denying any notion the business was “systemically cheating” by “bringing people into the country to work”.

“We don’t have a civil penalty that’s imposable against my clients, we don’t have a criminal sanction against them, and that’s critically important” he said.

He added there was no evidence “other than a statement from the first person detained” that there was people living in the rooms.

This Is Local London: One of the beds found in the raid. Image: Bromley Council One of the beds found in the raid. Image: Bromley Council

He also said he had been “surprised with the approach” of council officers, who had pushed for the licence to revoke given the seriousness of the suspected offences.

“I haven’t been in review where the officer led position has been quite as aggressive as this, it’s quite surprising,” Mr Whur said towards the end of the meeting.

Introducing the review earlier in the meeting, Bromley Council’s acting head of health, safety and licensing Steven Phillips urged committee members to “seriously consider” revoking the licence for the premises.

“Clearly it is my submission that on 13 March serious and ongoing issues were occurring,” he told the virtual meeting.

He added the council’s health, safety and licensing teams found “poor company practices and policies” during the raid which spoke “volumes about the way this premises was being run before 13 March”.

All three councillors on the committee had earlier confirmed they’d eaten there before, with Cllr Anthony Owen also revealing the Spinning Wheel previously hosted an Orpington Conservative Association Dinner.

This Is Local London: One of the rooms in the premises. Picture: Bromley CouncilOne of the rooms in the premises. Picture: Bromley Council

Sufian Miah, the premises licence holder, said the business had proudly operated “at the fine end of Indian fine dining” in the borough for 30 years.

He said it was a “reputable business” which has won numerous awards, with the alleged offences “damaging our reputation”.

Councillors were told by Mr Miah that the Shampan group had gone into liquidation in December,  resulting in a major reshuffle of positions and management within the company.

Councillors had earlier asked officers and immigration authorities how sure they were that people were living in the dozens of beds found in the raid.

Officials said there was a large amount of personal clothing hanging up in wardrobes and on beds throughout the seven bedrooms at the business, as well as personal toiletries in the bathrooms and at least 50 pairs of shoes.

A man arrested in January, a Bangledeshi national, had also named the restaurant as his home, an immigration officer confirmed to the meeting.

However, Mr Miah denied anyone was living at the restaurant, saying that staff used the beds to rest between shifts and sometimes stay the night if they had worked late.

This Is Local London: Images showing some of the beds found in rooms at the premises. Image: Bromley CouncilImages showing some of the beds found in rooms at the premises. Image: Bromley Council

He said the business had stockpiled the beds thinking that one day they may host “a massive event” where a lot of people were going to stay.

However this hadn’t happened he said, and since the raid they had removed about 11 of the beds.

He said staff who worked late often had “a little get together” at the end of the night, where they would play cards, talk about football,  or watch a movie – part of a “family unit” he said was fostered across the businesses.

Often if it was late those staff would spend the night, saying it had “never been an issue” with management.

“They’re purely for resting purposes, purely for somewhere to mooch out,” he added of the beds.

Immigration authorities confirmed an investigation was ongoing to decide what civil penalty could be imposed after four suspected illegal workers were arrested in the raid.

He said they were given an opportunity to bring their possessions before they were taken away, with all four heading back to the rooms to pack their bags.

The officer said the four were served with immigration enforcement notices,  with their office currently considering whether to impose a civil penalty.

The licensing committee will now consider a verdict, with the result to be decided within five working days of Wednesday.