Turkish restaurant Woody Grill shut for 3 months for repeatedly hiring illegal workers

A Turkish restaurant in West London has had its licence suspended for three months by Hammersmith and Fulham Council after its owners repeatedly flouted the law by hiring illegal workers.

Woody Grill on Uxbridge Road, Shepherd’s Bush, was inspected three times in 14 months by a team from the government’s Immigration Enforcement agency and each time illegal workers were found at the premises.

In the first visit on 17 March 2022, following intelligence that illegal workers were being employed, a visit to the premises by Immigration Enforcement and Council Licensing Officers found four individuals working illegally at the restaurant. They were escorted from the premises and the owners were fined £60,000 by the Home Office.

During the second visit, the restaurant manager and director, Ali Haydar Gumus, used to delaying tactics to allow some of the workers to escape, according to a report filed with Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Sub-Licensing committee.

“A second visit was conducted by Immigration Enforcement officers on 02/02/2023, following further intelligence received by the Home Office. During this visit Ali Haydar Gumus (director) was reluctant to give informed consent for the Immigration Enforcement officers to conduct and inspection, and frustrated the process, leading to four staff members escaping through a ceiling window at the back of the kitchen. Officers obtained authority to enter the premises through alternative powers at 12:57, which led to two individuals being found illegally working on the premises. Both illegal workers were escorted off premises and the business was served with another illegal working referral notice for a civil penalty.”

A third inspection in May of this year again found two individuals working illegally at the restaurant, prompting yet another illegal working referral notice for a civil penalty.

The repeated breaches by the Shepherd’s Bush branch of Woody Grill, owned by the Erpolat family, led to a request by the Central London Immigration Complaint and Enforcement Team for the restaurant to have its licence revoked. The request was backed by Adrian Overton, the Licensing Team Manager for Hammersmith and Fulham Council, and the Metropolitan Police.

Instead of revoking it, the council’s licensing sub-committee opted to suspend Woody Grill’s licence for three months. Their decision, made on August 2, came into force immediately. Additionally, there is a reduction in the restaurant’s late night hours and the manager, Ali Haydar Gumus, banned from working at the branch.

The restaurant owners have the right to appeal the Council’s decision at a magistrate’s court within 21 days of the date of the council’s notification of their full decision.

This is not the first time Woody Grill Shepherd’s Bush has been in trouble with the authorities. In March 2016, the owner Cengiz Erpolat was fined nearly £35,000, including costs, after the council’s environment team discovered filthy conditions at the restaurant.

Woody Grill Group say they are “embarrassed and disappointed” over illegal workers

Responding to the current charges, a statement submitted to the Council on behalf of Woody Grill by the restaurant chain’s Group Operations Manager said they were “both embarrassed and disappointed” over the emergence of illegal workers at their Shepherd’s Bush branch, and apologised for “that the issues at the premises were not resolved sooner.”

The Group Manager stated that Woody Grill Group operates “5 restaurants in Central London under the Woody Grill brand, including the premises in this review. We also operate 2 steak restaurants and a fully licenced 1,000 capacity wedding venue.”.

He claimed no other illegal workers were employed at any other Woody Grill branch, and they had an unblemished health and safety record for the past seven years.

He explained that Woody Grill Shepherd’s Bush opened on 28 February 2006 and it currently employs 12 staff that mostly live locally. He explained the problems with illegal occurred under the management of the owners’ nephew, who was set to be removed from his post but a third inspection, on 19 May, occurred before that could be done. However, that change had now occurred with the “Group’s highest achieving general manager” from their Boga Steak Grill restaurant now appointed the general manager of Woody Grill Shepherd’s Bush branch.

Tripling of fines for those supporting illegal migrants

Earlier this week, the government announced it was tripling the fines for employers and landlords who allow illegal migrants to work for them or rent their properties.

UK Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick

In the “biggest shake up of civil penalties since 2014”, the Home Secretary announced on Monday 7 August that the civil penalty for employers 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.

The Home Office said fines for landlords have increased from £80 per lodger and £1,000 per occupier for a first breach to up to £5,000 per lodger and £10,000 per occupier. Repeat breaches will result in fines of up to £10,000 per lodger and £20,000 per occupier, up from £500 and £3,000 respectively.

Since the start of 2018, almost 5,000 civil penalties have been issued to employers with a total value of £88.4m. Meanwhile, landlords have been hit with over 320 civil penalties worth a total of £215,500 in the same period.

Minister for Immigration Robert Jenrick said: “Making it harder for illegal migrants to work and operate in the UK is vital to deterring dangerous, unnecessary small boat crossings. Unscrupulous landlords and employers who allow illegal working and renting enable the business model of the evil people smugglers to continue.

“There is no excuse for not conducting the appropriate checks and those in breach will now face significantly tougher penalties.”

The new penalties will come in at the start of 2024.


Main image, top, of Woody Grill on Uxbridge Road, Shepherd’s Bush, West London, cropped from Google Maps