West London kebab restaurant has had its licence suspended for three months after repeatedly hiring illegal workers over an eight month period.
Three immigration enforcement visits were made at Woody Grill on Uxbridge Road, Shepherd’s Bush, between March 2022 and May this year, and at each one officers found and arrested illegal workers.
During the third visit, the manager was accused of using “delay tactics” with enforcement officers so four illegal workers could escape through a window at the back of the restaurant.
One illegal worker allegedly attempted to leave as if he was a customer but was stopped.
There were “serious failures” to comply with right to work checks at the business, a Hammersmith and Fulham Council licensing sub-committee report said.
“The premises appears to be operating with a complete disregard of the law”, the report said, and despite advice being given to staff during each visit, and a fine issued, “they continue to re-offend”.
It comes as the Government announced that fines for employers who allow illegal workers will more than triple.
On Monday the Home Office announced that fines for employers, which were last increased in 2014, will be raised to up to £45,000 per illegal worker for a first breach from £15,000, and up to £60,000 for repeat breaches from £20,000.
Woody Grill has five branches across West London. Twelve people are employed at the Shepherd’s Bush kebab restaurant, most of whom live locally.
Three visits were made on behalf of the Central London Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) team after they received intelligence from the Home Office.
A visit on March 17 last year found four illegal workers – an Albanian woman, an Afghanistan and an Iranian man, and a Turkish man illegally working while on a visitor visa in the UK.
They were all escorted from the premises and the branch was fined £30,000 from the Home Office.
During a second visit on February 2 this year, following further intelligence, four workers escaped through a ceiling window at the back of the kitchen, the committee report said.
Immigration officer Leonard Johnson told committee members in a meeting last week that the manager was “evasive” and used “delay tactics” during this visit, while two workers were nervous and “visibly shaken”.
They slowly walked behind the counter and into the kitchen area, he said. Four workers then managed to stack up equipment and escape through a back window.
Another worker attempted to leave as if he was a customer but he was stopped.
Two workers who did not escape were found to be working illegally. An Afghanistan man arrested during the first visit in March 2022 and a failed asylum seeker of Albanian nationality were escorted from the premises.
During a third raid by immigration enforcement officers at 11.34pm on May 19, entry was gained via a warrant from Westminster Magistrates Court and two illegal workers were found, the report said.
A warning of a fine was left at the premises.
The council’s licensing sub-committee made a decision on August 2 to suspend the restaurant’s licence for three months with immediate effect.
A reduction in the restaurant’s late night hours has also been ordered, and the manager banned from working at the branch.
Right to work audits must be carried out “no less than 12 times a year”, the committee decision said.
The Group Operations Manager for Woody Grill Group said they were “both embarrassed and disappointed” over the emergence of illegal workers at the Shepherd’s Bush branch, in a statement published by the council.
They claimed no other illegal workers were employed at any other Woody Grill branch.
“That illegal workers were employed at the premises is unacceptable,” the operations manager said.
“As a Group we should have removed [the general manager] rather than try to retrain him. Once that retraining proved to have been ineffective, we should have moved him on sooner. We know this was our responsibility.”
The general manager has now been removed from his position at the Uxbridge Road branch and the chain’s “highest achieving” general manager installed there instead, the statement said.