Restaurant hosting drinkers at Covid peak may have ‘risked public’s health’

Spice of Balti, in Bungay

Police were called to Spice of Balti, in Bungay, at the height of the second Covid peak - Credit: GOOGLE MAPS/SUFFOLK CORONAWATCH

An Indian restaurant where customers were eating and drinking during the peak of the pandemic may have been a risk to public safety, health experts have warned. 

Suffolk police were called to Spice of Balti, in St Mary’s Street, Bungay, on January 9 – just four days after the country was placed in a third national lockdown in response to soaring Covid cases – to reports members of the public were drinking alcohol at the restaurant's bar and eating takeaway inside. 

Police also found staff members were not wearing face coverings and the owner of the restaurant, Shams Uddin, was fined £1,000 a few days later.

But the authorities have now gone further – with Suffolk’s public health department warning the event “may have constituted a risk to the public’s health”. 

Dr Padmanabhan Badrinath, consultant in public health medicine at Public Health Suffolk

Dr Padmanabhan Badrinath, consultant in public health medicine at Public Health Suffolk - Credit: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

At a meeting last Friday, Public Health Suffolk recommended the restaurant’s licence be reviewed to “mitigate any further risk to the public” as a result of “Covid-19 transmission associated with the premises”. 

However, despite experts outlining their concerns for public safety, most of Friday’s hearing was held behind closed doors and details of the decision, usually issued up to five days after the meeting, are not being made public, East Suffolk Council has said. 

This newspaper has challenged that decision - which the council says was made because the hearing was held “in absence of the public” and “because the decision can be appealed” . 

Council chiefs said: “The sub-committee exercised their authority to exclude the public from the hearing... because it considered that the public interest in so doing outweighed the public interest in the hearing taking place in public.” 

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Mr Uddin has been removed as ‘designated premises supervisor’ (DPS) as a result of the meeting and a number of conditions have been put in place - but at the moment, these are not being made public. 

When we contacted the restaurant, bosses said they did not want to comment on the outcome of Friday’s hearing. 

‘Risk to public safety’ 

Dr Padmanabhan Badrinath, consultant in public health medicine, wrote in a report submitted to the licensing hearing that the incident at Spice of Balti on January 9 came at a time when Covid cases were high in Suffolk. 

On that date, hospitality venues were required to close, including restaurants, with the exception of providing food and non-alcoholic drinks for takeaway (until 11pm), click-and-collect, and drive-through. Alcoholic drinks were permitted to be provided through takeaway delivery only. 

Dr Badrinath wrote that on the day of the incident, there were 39,104 positive cases of Covid-19 in the UK, and 359 daily lab-confirmed cases in Suffolk, indicating the virus “was in circulation in the area”. 

“This event took place when case numbers were high, meaning increased risk of community transmission,” he warned in the report. 

“We would argue that the events as described by the police may constitute a risk to public safety." 

At the time, owner Mr Uddin claimed the restaurant had only been offering a takeaway service and said he planned to challenge the fine.   

“Two customers were waiting outside but then one came inside to pick up food. No-one was eating inside and no one was sitting inside,” he said.

Police investigation ongoing 

Arguing for part of Friday’s hearing to be held in private, John Corkett on behalf of Suffolk police confirmed criminal proceedings are ongoing in relation to the January incident. 

Police bosses state in reports to the meeting that a review of the restaurant’s licence was called on the grounds of preventing crime and disorder, public safety, and preventing public nuisance. 

Officers wrote that they wanted to see 12 conditions attached to the venue’s licence.  

The Spice of Balti, in St Mary's Street, Bungay

The Spice of Balti, in St Mary's Street, Bungay - Credit: GOOGLE MAPS

A police spokesman said after the meeting: “Despite efforts to work with the owner over the course of several weeks, there was a failure to engage with police to formulate a plan to prevent future breaches of the law.  

“The licensing sub-committee, having heard the case decided to remove the owner as the DPS and to impose a number of conditions on the premises licence.” 

Mr Uddin and his team have 21 days to appeal the decision. 

Timeline 

January 5 – England is put into a third national lockdown, following concern over rising Covid cases 

January 9 - Police called to Spice of Balti, Bungay, following reports members of the public are eating and drinking in the premises 

January 19 - Restaurant owner Shams Uddin served with a fixed penalty notice of £1,000 

April 12 – Pubs and restaurants in England allowed to re-open with outside dining 

April 16 – Licensing hearing held to review Spice of Balti 

April 21 – Decision to remove DPS and attach conditions uploaded to public council portal, with key details not made public 

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