Ilford tea room owner complains of harrassment

The owner of a tea room in Ilford, currently applying for longer opening hours says he and his staff have been harassed by a group of local residents determined to stop him.

Redbridge Council’s licensing committee met today to discuss the application from chain Chaiiwala, based on Ilford Lane, to stay open until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays.

A number of residents objected to the application on the grounds it will worsen anti-social behaviour in the area, with some claiming it could attract “low lifes” or even murder.

Owner Farook Aswat told the committee objectors have deliberately misrepresented his family-oriented business and that his staff “have had terrible experiences”.

He criticised as “unfair” the submission of a photo of his shop on August 12 with customers not socially distancing, claiming it did not show the employee trying to remove them.

He said: “Someone has taken a picture at a really bad time to use against us. I have been harassed, we have had some really terrible experiences with local people trying to prove a point.

“It’s just being bullyish, I’m trying to do something positive, I’m trying to work with the community and I’m only asking for two more hours.

“I appreciate the local concerns, there are issues with Ilford Lane that were there long before we came.

“Since we have come in with the lighting and the families, the prostitution has gone and the drug dealers have gone.

“We are providing jobs in the area and providing for the economy, it’s not just for financial gain, we have got to have a sustainable business.”

Responding to questions of whether a family-oriented tea room needs to open late on weekends, he said: “I say there’s a definite need, even when we were open after 11pm selling cold drinks and dessert, there’s a demand there.”

While the shop can legally sell cold food and drink after 11pm, licensing enforcement officer Priya Cheema said it had been caught selling hot drinks after this time previously.

A witness statement from a senior enforcement officer dated August 1, after the shop had received a warning about breaking its licence, said hot drinks were being sold at 1.15am.

However, Mr Aswat claimed in the meeting that the people receiving these drinks were members of staff.

The business’ agent Graham Hopkins added: “Mr Aswat is adamant that at no time after the initial mistake have they sold hot food or drink after 11pm.

“We do accept the points made by officers about queues and social distancing. They are trying to enforce social distancing, they do have a member of staff on the door reminding people.

“We note the concerns about litter and the client offers the condition that litter patrols will be carried out 50 yards either side of the cafe.”

However, the area’s councillor Zulfiqar Hussain (Lab, Clementswood) accused Mr Aswat of being “economical with the truth”, stating: “I have never heard so many lies.

“There has been no positive impact on the locality, in fact it’s been the other way around.”

Cllr Muhammed Javed (Lab, Clementswood) wrote to the committee: “I support small businesses but not at the expense of public safety. The council should be discouraging, not encouraging, late openings.”

He claimed it was a “well-known fact” that businesses open late “give rise to potential increase in crime and disorder, public safety and harm to children and families”, adding that such businesses should close “by 11.30pm at the latest”.

Licensing enforcement officer Priya Cheema said her team were concerned that, if granted a licence, the shop would breach it “because they are already committing an offence without a licence”.

The licensing committee will return its decision in five working days.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter