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Temporary licence suspension for popular Hampton pizzeria over ‘Covid breaches’

A “really popular and well-supported” pizza restaurant in Hampton has had its licence removed for three weeks and nine new conditions attached after alleged Covid breaches in January this year.

Covid marshals attended Piazza Firenze during the third national lockdown on January 21, where they reported seeing two tables of people sitting in the restaurant.

The premises licence holder, Mr Habib Retkoceri, known as Ben, explained that they were all members of staff who had either come to collect furlough money or were having their meal break while on shift.

Nevertheless, he was advised that no one should be sat in the front of the restaurant eating or drinking.

Just over a week later on January 31 police officers attended the restaurant to find a group of five people gathered around a table “having a social gathering”.

PC Takhar from Twickenham police station, who attended the scene, wrote in his report that: “There was food in dishes on plates, there was also half full glasses of red wine and an open bottle of wine. There was also a three-quarter full bottle of Bombay sapphire Gin and a glass full of ice and freshly cut lemon which I believe to be Gin liquor.”

The officers took details of those present for £200 Fixed Penalties to be issued.

PC John McGann, addressing Richmond Council’s Licensing Sub-Committee on March 30, originally applied for the license to be revoked in light of these breaches, saying he didn’t understand why there was a need to pay staff in cash or for staff to eat in the restaurant when there was room in the kitchen.

However, he said he had taken into consideration a number of positive emails sent in by customers and friends of the licence holder, describing the nice pizzas and how the restaurant supports charities in the community.

He added: “As we begin to see light at the end of the tunnel I’ve also taken into consideration the remorse shown by Mr Retkoceri, the positive action he has taken in dismissing a troublesome member of staff. He’s agreed to conditions to be attached to the premises which will involve the installation of CCTV which comes at a cost that he is prepared to take.”

Charles Merrett, speaking on behalf of Mr Retkoceri, stressed that in Mr Retkoceri’s 20 years as a licence holder he had never had a single complaint or issue.

He pointed to 12 emails submitted by local customers and friends, who praised the restaurant for their delivery and takeaway service during the very early stages of the pandemic and how safe the restaurant felt when it was allowed to open.

He also explained that before the pandemic, Piazza Firenze was “a very cash heavy business” and that it was better for the quality of life of the staff to receive their wages in more regular cash payments than by monthly bank transfer.

This also applied to furlough payments.

He said Mr Retkoceri had since moved away from that system in response to the issues raised by Covid marshals and the police, but stressed that he did not believe the incident on January 21 was a breach of Covid restrictions, as the only people in the restaurant were staff receiving furlough money or eating together on a break during their shift.

He said the kitchen at the back of the restaurant is “a very small space with nowhere to sit” and that staff members were entitled to eat in the restaurant.

This Is Local London: Police said several others were also arrested in relation to the case. Image: Met Police

“If that is to be considered improper we can only apologise,” he said.

Regarding the incident on January 31, he noted that while four people found in the restaurant were members of staff working there, a fifth person, the girlfriend of the chef, should not have been there.

“There’s nothing else we can say in terms of justifying her position there. We know she should not have been there,” he said.

“Mr Retkoceri had no idea that she was there and he has since fired that chef who brought her there.”

He concluded: “We acknowledge that was a very deeply unfortunate breach of the Covid regulations. We have tried to take appropriate and quick action as a response to it.”

A decision was published by Richmond Council on Tuesday (April 6) confirming that the premises licence would be suspended for a period of three weeks and would have nine new conditions added to it.

The notice praised the “prompt action taken by the licence holder in response to the review application.”



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