A man who had admitted continuing to run a Leamington restaurant in breach of a ban, imposed when he was sentenced for food hygiene offences, has now protested his innocence.
In a case brought by Warwick District Council, Mohammed Muneer had pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court last month to a charge of contravening a prohibition order.
The charge alleged that between the end of January last year and the end of September, he took part in the management of a food business, Ali’s Curry House in Bath Street, Leamington.
That was in breach of an order made on January 23 last year under the Food Hygiene Regulations banning him from participating in the management of a food business for two years.
The court heard last month that Muneer (64) of Denbeigh Street, Bordesley Green, Birmingham, had entered his plea on the basis that the breach was limited to a period up until April 7.
His barrister at that hearing said that was when the restaurant lease was taken over by a Mr Khan, who was now running the business, although Muneer still worked there as an employee.
But following an adjournment for a pre-sentence report to be prepared, Seamran Sidhu, for Muneer, said he was ‘adamant’ that he now wanted to vacate his guilty plea and deny the charge.
Miss Sidhu explained: “In the pre-sentence report he gave an account to probation to say he did not work as an employee at the restaurant, and was merely there because he was giving the chef a lift to and from the restaurant.
“He is saying he did not understand the offence when he pleaded guilty.”
Judge Sylvia de Bertodano pointed out that if he wanted to vacate his guilty plea, the court would first need to know what his barrister at the previous hearing, Tarlowchan Dubb, says about the situation which had led to the plea being entered.
And Miss Sidhu confirmed: “He is adamant he wants to go down that route. He says he did not understand what he was pleading to.”
So Judge de Bertodano adjourned the case for a statement to be taken from Mr Dubb, who may have to give evidence during a hearing at which Muneer’s application to vacate his plea will be heard.
Granting Muneer bail, she told him: “I can see there has been some misunderstanding about exactly what happened on the last occasion, so we will have to look into it.”
The prosecution by the council was the culmination of a series of breaches of food hygiene regulations by Muneer.
He had been given a caution in 2014, and the following year he was fined £8,000 and ordered to pay more than £4,000 costs after a rat infestation was found at the restaurant.
In January last year magistrates were told that Muneer, who had pleaded guilty to six hygiene offences, had persistently failed to maintain hygiene standards.
When District Council food safety officers had visited Ali’s Curry House they discovered access to a hand-washing sink was partly blocked, indicating staff were not washing their hands.
Surfaces throughout the kitchen were filthy, equipment which came into contact with food was dirty, and there were ‘mouldy and sprouting food items.’
As a result of those offences, Muneer was given a 23-week prison sentence suspended for two years – and made subject to the prohibition order.
And adjourning the case after he had pleaded guilty to breaching the order, Judge de Bertodano had warned him: “That is no indication at all that it will not be a custodial sentence. That is the likely outcome.”