Restaurant loses licence after owner’s second lockdown breach

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A Liverpool restaurant has lost its licence after its owner served four men alcohol during lockdown, only months after he was found breaking coronavirus restrictions at his brother’s restaurant.

The Spice Lounge Bar and Grill, on Duke Street, will not be able to sell alcohol after a decision today by Liverpool Council’s licensing and gambling sub-committee – but that decision won’t take effect for three weeks.

The decision follows a Covid breach back in February when police officers responding to a call out found four men hiding in a room in the restaurant’s basement surrounded by empty drinks cans.

The restaurant’s owner, Mohammed Abdul Wadud, had also been given a fixed penalty notice for coronavirus breaches last year at Dostana restaurant in Woolton.

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Dostana, which is run by Mr Wadud’s brother, was found by officers serving between 20 and 30 people around a table while restaurants were required to only serve takeaway.

A meeting last month about The Spice Lounge saw police officers outline Mr Wadud’s claim that the men found in a basement room of The Spice Lounge were workers pricing up a construction job.

Police disputed that claim, pointing out that the men were wearing “designer-like clothing” and didn’t have tools, notepads or any measuring equipment. No evidence of the men being builders was produced for the sub-committee.

On being questioned, one of the men told police officers that Mr Wadud “told us to hide when you lot showed up”.

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Mr Wadud was previously one of a number of people fined after more than 20 people were found crowded round one table in Dostana in Woolton Village in the middle of the first lockdown.

Sergeant Craig Carmichael, who oversees licensing issues in Liverpool for Merseyside Police, said the four men were “known to police” and that none of their actions tallied with them being construction workers.

He said: “The men in question, I can’t name them obviously, but they are known to the police. They aren’t known to the police as builders.

“What I can say is if I was a builder who was pricing up a job and I got a fine for that I would have been shouting and screaming to the police to cancel that fine.

“They did not, they accepted the fine.”

Police also criticised the restaurant for problems with its CCTV system and for what they said were attempts by Mr Wadud to block the police officer who attended from searching the premises.

Separately, it was discovered that Mr Wadud had not put his name on the premises licence for a full year after buying the restaurant in February 2020, only doing so after the lockdown breach.

Mr Wadud spoke only briefly during the meeting, with most of his defence being presented through a licensing consultant acting as his representative.

His representative said Mr Wadud believed a rival restaurant may have been the one to alert officers to the lockdown breach, a claim debunked by a police confirmation that the call came from a passerby.

In a defiant statement, his representative stated again that the men were constructions workers and that Mr Wadud had not profited financially from serving them.

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He said the pandemic had taken a huge financial toll on Mr Wadud, whose attempt to claim a small business grant from the council was rejected on the basis of his previous coronavirus breach at Dostana.

His representative said the police’s presentation of the facts surrounding the lockdown breach implied something “sinister or suspicious” but that it was simply a mistake.

He said: “Yes there were four males in the premises. They were downstairs and they were not in public view.

“This restaurant seats 180. What benefit would there be, financially or otherwise, to serving four men. There is no benefit at all.”

Referring to the alleged blocking incident, the representative said Mr Wadud was simply trying to identify other members of staff present in the restaurant to the officer.

He said: “He was not blocking [the police officer], he was trying to show her who was who.”

Despite Mr Wadud being found breaching coronavirus restrictions at Dostana last summer, his representative said his 13 year career in licensed premises was “without blemishes” and called him “a man of impeccable character”.

Councillor Christine Banks, chairing the sub-committee, said members were unconvinced by Mr Wadud’s defence and ordered that his premises licence be revoked.

However, The Spice Lounge will still be able to serve alcohol for the next three weeks until a deadline to appeal the decision passes. It means the restaurant can reopen indoors tonight in line with the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Speaking after the committee’s decision, councillor Banks said Mr Wadud’s breach of restrictions had endangered Liverpool’s citizens.

She said: “This sub-committee does not consider Mr Wadud as sufficiently responsible to be trusted with a premises licence and the duties and responsibilities follow from holding a premises licence.

“I think you should consider the endangerment to the people of this city which stemmed from your actions.”

Mr Wadud can appeal to the Magistrates’ Court within 21 days to attempt to overturn the sub-committee’s decision.