An Italian restaurant in Alton has been stripped of its alcohol licence after illegal workers were found in Home Office raids.

In an East Hampshire District Council licensing sub-committee meeting, owner Gentian Nela – who took over Cucina Dei Sapori in November 2022 – had the licence revoked after two visits uncovered some staff who did not have the right to work in the UK.

The restaurant has been operating with an alcohol licence since June 11, 2010, opening Monday to Saturday from 10am until 11pm, and Sunday from midday to 10.30pm.

East Hampshire District Council’s solicitor, via a remote link, said the licence should be revoked on the basis that the prevention of crime and disorder objective had been undermined. The solicitor explained that this was because there were employees who did not have the legal status to work in the UK.

Committee chair Cllr Graham Hill told immigration officer Timothy Kemp it was very “unusual” to bring an immigration issue before a licensing panel.

Mr Kemp agreed but explained that this was because employing illegal workers breached the prevention of crime and disorder objective.

The High Street restaurant was visited in January 2023 and February 2024 by Mr Kemp and his team of immigration enforcement officers, who believed it was employing illegal workers.

After the first visit by Mr Kemp, a civil penalty of £30,000 was issued and advice was given to Mr Nela as four illegal workers were found to be present, according to meeting documents.

Mr Kemp said that after the second visit, when three workers were found without the correct paperwork, the case had to be escalated, which brought it before the licensing committee as employing illegal workers undercut resident workers.

During the meeting, the number of illegal workers was decided as definitely one, with the status of two still pending further investigation.

Mr Nela said he had only just taken over when the January 2023 visit was made. He said he was a young businessman in a new job, and assured the committee that it was not negligence, just a steep and rapid learning curve. He said he was now fully aware of how not keeping accurate records would affect his business and livelihood.

Robert Edge, speaking on behalf of Mr Nela, said he was fully aware of the seriousness of the breaches and had a solid determination to put things right moving forward.

Mr Nela said he found it difficult to keep track of the changing employment status of employees, some of whom had permission to work for six months or a couple of years. He has now employed an assistant to look after and update employee records and copies of documents.

Mr Nela said the restaurant employed 20 staff and contributed £150,000 to Alton in staff salaries plus taxes to local government, which he said demonstrated his role in the local community.

Fire regulations had not been fully complied with and these were due to be met by May 1. Steven Logan, from Hampshire Fire and Rescue, said the premises may pose a fire risk to staff and customers.

The restaurant also has a planning application to put up a gazebo and close off an internal area awaiting a decision.

Mr Nela has the right to appeal against the revocation of the alcohol licence, and the restaurant can still operate.