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Restaurant's fury at 'intimidating' raid by immigration squad

PUBLISHED: 10:16 18 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:57 07 September 2010

"Strada" Highgate Restaurant raided by Immigration Police. Kujtim Veselaj,Paulo Sergeen (Manager) & Jay Neto

© Nigel Sutton 17 Redington Rd,London,NW37QX. Phone 020 7794 3008. email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

IMMIGRATION officers carried out a lunchtime raid at a Highgate restaurant, leaving staff shaken and customers shocked. Acting on a tip-off, a team of eight officers stormed into Strada in South Grove and interrogated waiters and chefs in full

Tan Parsons

IMMIGRATION officers carried out a lunchtime raid at a Highgate restaurant, leaving staff shaken and customers shocked.

Acting on a tip-off, a team of eight officers stormed into Strada in South Grove and interrogated waiters and chefs in full view of diners.

But after intense questioning, the raid proved fruitless and the restaurant is now trying to get back to normal business.

"It was like an interrogation - they were asking for documentation. I felt we were treated like criminals - like we had done something wrong," said manager Paulo Sergeev, originally from Argentina.

"I understand the reasons they have for checking these things, but I didn't like the way they went about it."

In the 1pm raid on Friday immigration officers demanded to see an Italian staff member's passport, but he only had his driving licence with him.

Mr Sergeev said: "They asked him stupid questions like 'what is the capital of Italy?' Does that really prove you are Italian, if you know the answer?

"I felt they were asking silly questions - they were quite intimidating. They interrogated our staff right in front of the customers - it was really bad. We weren't allowed to go anywhere.

"I was trying to find my passport to show them but I couldn't find the keys to the safe so I had to stay. They interviewed two chefs, a waiter and myself. But at the end of it all they found nothing and had to leave."

Mr Sergeev, who has been manager at the restaurant for three months, is now concerned the heavy-handed raid could affect business.

"I'm worried that people who saw it could be scared by what happened. I think it could have a negative effect if people take it in the wrong way," he said.

Other businesses in Highgate have rallied in support of the restaurant and expressed dismay at the manner in which the raid was carried out.

Mihaly Moso, who runs the popular Rose and Crown pub in Highgate High Street, said he was shocked. "It's out of order. I can understand why people working at Strada were upset," he said.

"This is the first time I've heard of anything like this happening here before. You just don't expect something like this in Highgate Village."

John Sperr, who runs Fisher and Sperr bookshop in Highgate High Street, also said: "It's frightening - I have never heard of anything like this here before.

"The immigration officers seem to have ridden roughshod over the situation when they could have dealt with it in a more reasonable manner."

A spokesman for the Tragus group, which runs the Strada chain, said rigorous procedures are in place to ensure its staff meet the provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Act.

"Our restaurants are routinely inspected by our own auditors and the Immigration Services.

"At no time has the business received any indication that its procedures are not being complied with by restaurant managers," he said.

A UK Border Agency spokeswoman said: "If we receive intelligence that a business is employing illegal workers, we will act on it.

"To arrest illegal workers and remove them from the country - which the overwhelming majority of the public want us to do - we need to visit businesses when the individuals we are targeting are at work.

"We always aim to keep disruption to law-abiding employers and members of the public to a minimum. We will continue to remove record numbers of foreign law breakers and attack illegal working because it undercuts British wages.

"Last year we removed the equivalent of one person every eight minutes, and carried out 40 per cent more illegal working operations than the previous year."

tan.parsons@hamhigh.co.uk

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