A catalogue of licensing breaches at a burger bar culminating in an attempted rape are a “ghastly demonstration” of what happens when laws aren’t followed, a panel heard today.
The Wimpy in Station Road, Portslade could lose its licence after Sussex Police discovered faulty CCTV and empty vodka bottles when they were called to the sexual assault in March this year.
Subsequent investigations revealed two members of staff were working illegally and the owner had failed to disclose a drink driving conviction.
Police have asked Brighton and Hove City Council to revoke the licence, and today put their case to a three-councillor panel.
But the owner, who was abroad when the attack happened, asked for a three-month suspension to give him time to focus on making improvements.
Sussex Police’s barrister Peter Savill told the three-councillor licensing panel: “This is, on any analysis, a very serious case. It demonstrates a complete failure on the part of the licence holder.
“It proves to be a ghastly demonstration of quite what can happen when those with responsibility for licensed premises do not abide by those responsibilities and don’t abide by the law.”
During investigations into the attempted rape, police officers found the site “littered” with multiple empty vodka bottles on the premises and two members of staff were illegal immigrants who should not be employed in the UK at all.
Shop manager Peraslingam Nanthvavaraman, 40, of Sheppard Way, Portslade, overstayed a visitor’s visa in 2010 and is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to the attempted rape charge.
Mr Savill said the premises licence holder Kapilraj Vigneswaran had also failed to disclose a conviction for drink driving.
As the premises licence holder, Mr Vigneswaran has overall responsibility for alcohol sales at the business.
The designated premises supervisor (DPS) has day-to-day responsibility for managing alcohol.
However, during police investigations into the rape case, officers found DPS Ketheesan Tharmasseelan believed he had signed over this role to the shop manager.
During a routine licence check in January, the council’s licensing officer Donna Lynsdale had also found Mr Nanthvavaraman did not know the identity of the designated premises supervisor.
He could not show her monitors or a hard drive for working CCTV and could not provide training records, all essential for a business selling alcohol.
Ms Lynsdale contacted the premises licence holder Mr Vigneswaran, who responded to say he would “sort it”.
Police investigating the attempted rape discovered someone had removed the CCTV hard drive.
Mr Vigneswaran himself did not attend the panel, but his barrister Duncan Craig said his client was away in India until 10 March – two days after the attempted rape – and had apps on his phone to monitor CCTV at his three businesses.
However, the app never worked for the Portslade Wimpy.
Mr Craig said Mr Vigneswaran is “particularly upset” about the attempted rape.
He accepted the need for a “deterrent” and asked the panel to suspend the licence for three months to allow his client to focus on fixing the problems.
Mr Craig acknowledged he did not carry out immigration checks.
It meant he had no idea his two employees were not entitled to work at the business.
The panel heard he did not declare his conviction as there was “less of a focus” on people declaring their licence to a court, but the law has since been tightened up.
Conservative councillor Dee Simson was frustrated Mr Vigneswaran did not attend as many of her questions required his knowledge.
She said: “Part of our responsibility as a panel is to question the knowledge of the premises licence holder and DPS.
“Not having them here makes it really difficult. We need to ascertain their knowledge of the licensing act.”
Licensing committee chair, councillor Jackie O’Quinn was concerned an illegal worker left in charge ended up committing a serious crime while the owner was away.
Councillor O’Quinn said: “When you go away you make sure everything is run properly while you’re away. You’re ultimately responsible for what happens at your premises.
“He was not there when the offence took place, in a sense, by not doing everything he should have done. It enabled that offence to take place.
“One does get the feeling that this was not a particularly well-run premises in terms of its licence.”
Green councillor Lizzie Deane asked about the franchise and relationship with Wimpy as the situation does not “do any favours” to the brand, but Mr Craig could not answer.
The panel retired to make its decision which will be made public in five working days.