A Midhurst convenience store has had its premises licence revoked after immigration officers found three illegal workers in the shop.
Navaratnam Sathananthan, who runs Holmbush Stores, in Holmbush Way, had the licence taken away during a meeting of Chichester District Council’s licensing sub-committee on Wednesday (March 15).
The meeting was told that a tip-off to the South East Immigration Compliance & Enforcement team (ICE) at the Home Office led police and ICE to the store in November last year where the three workers were arrested and detained ‘pending removal back to their home countries’.
One had arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry in 2007 while the others had over-stayed their visitor visas by a number of years.
All three have since claimed asylum.
A civil penalty notice was issued by the Home Office, which could see Mr Sathananthan facing a penalty of up to £20,000 for each of the three workers.
The meeting was told that all three had been paid cash-in-hand – and probably lower than the minimum wage – paying no tax or national insurance.
The application to review the premises licence was made in January by ICE on the grounds that the licensing objective to prevent crime and disorder had been ‘seriously undermined’.
A representative speaking for Mr Sathananthan said he wanted to offer an apology to the council, the Home Office and Sussex Police ‘to show his willingness to understand that he has made a mistake’.
He told the meeting that only one of the workers had been at the shop in 2022 when Mr Sathananthan went to Sri Lanka for around a month to attend to ‘religious and cultural issues’.
And he claimed that, by the time he returned, the other two had moved in as well.
He denied that he had offered any sort of paid work to the two but confirmed that he had been paying the first worker £250 per week, cash-in-hand.
The meeting was also told that his mother had suffered a heart attack and there had been issues with the company’s bank.
The representative said Mr Sathananthan wanted his wife to take over as designated premises supervisor, adding: “He feels he’s let down the council, he’s let down people within the community and he wants to really work towards building back the trust that he’s built over the last 19 years.”
Henry Potter, who chaired the meeting, described the matter as being of ‘great concern’.
He said Mr Sathananthan had ‘not applied any due diligence in the management of his licence’, failed to comply with employment legal requirements and failed to make ‘simple arrangements’ to cover his duties when visiting Sri Lanka.
Mr Potter added: “The sub-committee is sympathetic with the licence holder’s personal circumstances at the time and his apology presented to the committee for the decisions he took.
“However, it is not satisfied that the licensing objective of the prevention of crime and disorder was adequately promoted.
“For these reasons, the sub-committee has decided to revoke this premises licence.”