Rotherham Council under fire for refusing late-night cafe license
The council has come under fire after its licensing sub-committee rejected a late-night food license application submitted by a Rotherham cafe over concerns that it may contribute to child sexual and criminal exploitation.
An application was received on behalf of Matki Chai Ltd for a premises licence at a container unit in the car park of Pitstop Car Wash on Fitzwilliam Road, Eastwood, to provide hot drinks and snacks on Friday and Saturday nights until 2am, and twice a year for Eid.
The business, owned by former Yorkshire and England under-19s captain Azeem Rafiq, sells traditional Pakistani cuisine and tea in clay pots, and was represented by Mr Rafiq's business partner, Khurrum Bhatti, at a virtual meeting of the licensing sub-committee on July 10.
The cafe already trades until 11pm, but wanted to extend its opening hours to give members of the Asian community, especially women, a place to eat their evening meal and socialise.
However, concerns were raised at a meeting of the council's licensing sub-committee, by South Yorkshire Police, Councillor Kathleen Reeder (Valley Ward), and the council's children and young peoples service and licensing service about increased anti-social behaviour in the area, public nuisance, child sexual exploitation or criminal exploitation, and the area being subject to a Public Spaces Protection Order.
Keeley Ladlow, senior licensing enforcement officer at Rotherham Council told the meeting of the department's concerns about the license extension, such as anti-social behaviour, and child sexual exploitation in the area.
Ms Ludlow said: "The main concern is an increase in anti social behaviour that might occur from the premises being open between 11pm and 2am.
"Eastwood, and in particular that area of Fitzwilliam Road, has become an area of concern regarding child sexual and criminal exploitation previously.
"There's also been significant work in intelligence to suggest that there is the offering of young women to men in vehicles to engage in sexual activity, and also prostitution in the area."
Prior to the meeting, the business owners agreed to three conditions with South Yorkshire Police, which were superseded when the application was submitted. The conditions were that the applicants would install CCTV, persons under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult after 6pm, and cannot be on the premises past 11pm, and that staff were to undertake safeguarding children training.
However, the application was refused following a private meeting of councillors Sue Ellis, Christine Beaumont, and John Vjestica of the licensing sub-committee.
Muhbeen Hussain, the leader of British Muslim Youth called the conditions "absurd", and asked if the whole community would have to pay for the crimes of a few.
Mr Hussain said: "I have no words at how Rotherham Council is treating the local Pakistani Muslim Community. For too long, the crimes of few that we all stand against, have been levelled at the whole community."
"I have never heard of people being I.D'd for buying a cup of tea. The conditions that were placed on this business are so absurd, and yet everyone on this Licensing Committee including the representatives from the council and the police saw this as perfectly normal. This is why it is so dangerous."
"This is what happens when you become a suspect community. Criminals are criminals but will the whole community have to pay a price for a crime they have not committed?"
Following Mr Hussain's comments after the meeting, Councillor Sue Ellis, chair of Rotherham Council’s licensing board said: “The committee felt that a late night premises opening until 2am could lead to increased anti-social behaviour and noise nuisance and undermine the work that was being done through the introduction of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) within the locality to address these issues.
"The committee was also aware of the vulnerable residents in the area, and the increased risk which could be brought about by a late-night take-away, or drive-in venture.
“The licensing board is fully appreciative of entrepreneurs who are working to improve the local economy and we will continue to balance the positive impact of new businesses with the needs of residents who live in the area.”