An attempt to smear the reputation of one of the country’s most famous Indian restaurants has been condemned by its owner as “totally unacceptable”.
Earlier this month a man, who declined to be named, called the Epsom Guardian claiming Le Raj on Epsom Downs had been raided by police and immigration officers who had arrested two members of staff while one had escaped.
In fact the UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers had merely carried out a routine compliance visit on May 9 in plain clothes and had gave the restaurant a clean bill of health.
The restaurant’s founder, Enam Ali, a leading figure in the British curry industry, said: “I’m really shocked. I can’t believe someone said that. It’s unbelievable.
“When you find someone saying nonsense and trying to mislead people and the community it’s totally unacceptable.”
Mr Ali said it was not the first time that malicious allegations had been made against Indian restaurants: “This kind of thing has been happening in the curry industry for many years.”
Earlier this month the BBC reported that police are investigating false rumours about the standard of hygiene at Planet Spice in the village of Ormesby St Margaret, Norfolk.
Establishing the facts about what had happened at Le Raj was complicated by the fact that UKBA initially insisted it had no record of any recent visit to the restaurant.
It was only when Mr Ali contacted the agency direct that it re checked and confirmed that its officers had visited.
A UKBA spokesman told the Epsom Guardian: “It was a compliance visit that resulted in no action being taken because we were satisfied all the records were in order. It found nothing untoward.”
In 2003 Mr Ali spoke out in the media after a ‘heavy-handed and insensitive’ raid on his restaurant by armed police and immigration, which found nothing but alarmed guests and staff.
Mr Ali, who ran the curry section at the Olympic hospitality centre last year, has lobbied the Government for more flexible immigration laws to address the shortage of trained chefs which are hard to find in this country.
But he said he carries out thorough checks on all his staff and would never employ someone unable to work here legally.
However, he said many restaurants find it hard to verify the backgrounds of potential employees even if they have ID.
He said: “It’s very difficult for Indian restaurants to assess who they can employ and who they cannot.”
Mr Ali said the community had strongly supported the restaurant since it opened in 1989. Presenting last year’s Curry Awards, which were founded my Mr Ali in 2005, Epsom’s MP Chris Grayling, said: “This is an amazing family business. We are so proud of what they and the whole industry have achieved.”