Shocked diners were forced to evacuate an Indian restaurant in Eaton Bray after it was raided by Home Office immigration enforcement officers on Friday evening.
Café Masala in Bower Lane – which bills itself as “the best Indian restaurant in Dunstable, Leighton Buzzard and surrounding villages” – was raided on the evening of Friday, April 5.
Three people were arrested at the premises who had overstayed their visas.
One eyewitness said: “I got there at about 8pm and there were people standing outside looking really fed up.
“Our friends were inside the restaurant, which was pretty busy when the immigration officers suddenly walked in just before eight and ordered everyone to keep still.”
A woman who was present during the raid said: “Some of the officers rushed to guard the toilets and exits while others went straight to the kitchen.
“We couldn’t understand what was happening. The officers were in uniform but they weren’t police. Then, we looked out of the window and saw the Home Office van.
“The officers took over one section of the restaurant and sat a couple of workers at a table. They were taking loads of details about them.
“The whole place ground to a halt. Some of the people were halfway through their meals while others were waiting to order.”
As diners waited outside, the doors of the restaurant were shut with an officer was guarding them and no-one was able to leave. People who had booked tables were arriving and not allowed inside.
The eyewitness added: “We hadn’t even ordered our food. We knew there was no chance of getting served, so after about 20 minutes we persuaded the officer on the door to let us leave and go elsewhere.
“It was a real shock. You don’t expect something like this to happen in Eaton Bray!”
Café Masala has a five-star food hygiene rating and is also highly rated on Trip Advisor, with four-and-a-half stars.
Tarique Uddin, owner of Café Masala, said that one of those arrested was a family friend living upstairs while two others were employees.
He said: “The problem was I employed these people over the phone. I didn’t have a chance to look into it, I have a newborn baby and I’ve been in and out of Great Ormond Street Hospital.
“It’s hard for bars and restaurants, we are short of staff because no-one wants to work in the evenings. So, I just employed these people over the phone.
“I’ve been here 15 years and nothing like this has ever happened before. We’ve been advised [about work checks] and everything, and I told them that I had a newborn baby and that I hadn’t been there for five or six weeks.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Acting on intelligence, immigration enforcement officers visited Café Masala, Bower Lane, Eaton Bray, on Friday, April 5.
“Three Bangladeshi men were arrested as checks showed they were in the UK illegally and had no right to work – all three, who were aged 28, 35 and 42, had overstayed their visas. They have all been detained pending their removal from the UK.
“A fourth man, also Bangladeshi and aged 39, was encountered without permission to work in the UK. He was ordered to report regularly to the Home Office while his case is dealt with.”
Café Masala was served a civil penalty referral notice which warns that a financial penalty of up to £20,000 per illegal could be imposed unless the employer can demonstrate that appropriate right-to-work document checks were carried out, such as seeing a passport or Home Office document confirming permission to work.
This is a potential total of up to £80,000.
Information to help employers carry out checks to prevent illegal working can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/employers-illegal-working-penalties.
People with information about suspected immigration abuse can visit https://www.gov.uk/report-immigration-crime or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.