Desi tea shop applicant subjected to ‘grooming inquisition’ by Rotherham Council committee

Rotherham Town Hall

Abrar Javid, of the Rotherham Muslim Community Forum, says a simple licensing application has confirmed the community’s worst suspicions  – that racism has permeated all institutions and it’s quite normal to profile and label a whole community as “suspects” in Rotherham.

On July 11 a license application in Rotherham by a desi tea shop (Matki Chai Ltd) to have extended opening hours was heard by Rotherham Council. The application was to provide hot drinks and snacks on Friday and Saturday nights until 2am, and twice a year for Eid.

The cafe already trades until 11pm, but wanted to extend its opening hours to give people 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, 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.”

‘Inquisition’ 

In the view of many in our community the questioning by a Labour-led licensing committee amounted to subjecting the applicant to over an hour of inquisition regarding how he would effectively police his customers (mainly Pakistani Muslims) from abusing vulnerable children and adults who reside in the area.

The whole episode was video recorded and what followed was headlines such as “Council raises fears of CSE over late food outlet” in the local press (Rotherham Advertiser).

Professor Alexis Jay’s damning report revealed 16 years of sexual abuse in Rotherham.

The Council’s children’s services objected to the application because they believed “an establishment like this will contribute to further exploitation.”

South Yorkshire Police wanted conditions imposed which required Under 18’s to be accompanied by a responsible adult after 6pm and for I.D’s to be inspected by the businesses. Yet they accepted this was all based on “fear and speculation” due to “historical” issues. The all-white panel were completely at ease having a discussion that many would consider racist while being recorded and deciding an application for a business.

The fact is the conditions imposed on this business would have meant under 18’s could have bought tea from any place possibly in the entire country without a responsible adult after 6pm, except this Pakistani tea shop in Rotherham.

The Jay Report

This application process was a snapshot of what the Muslim community of Rotherham has had to endure since the publication of the Jay Report into child exploitation in Rotherham published in August 2014.

After the publication the town saw, from August 2014 to September 2015, 15 right-wing marches through the town, with many businesses left devastated, communities living in dread and an elderly man murdered in August 2015 while he walked to the masjid to offer his Fajr salah.

Muhsin Ahmed

The murderers were two local men who may well have become radicalised following such demonisation of the Muslim community that they felt it okay to murder Mushin Ahmed, an 82 year old man, without any remorse, and call him a “groomer” whilst doing so.

When a video emerged of the “inquisition” by Rotherham Council, the only ones not surprised by the process were local Muslims.

And as the video went viral what was expected was condemnation of such actions, and a universal acceptance that they are not acceptable in our society. But unfortunately it would seem our moral consciousness and integrity is in lockdown as no apology was forthcoming.

Will Muslim voices ever be heard?

It seems that unless an issue is raised by a white person, or a campaign is led by a white person, or the issue is covered by a white journalist, the seriousness of the concerns raised are not taken as seriously.

We all suffer from this acceptance of somehow it is more true when the person leading it is white. Perhaps we must all free ourselves of this malaise and look at the issues that emerge, rather than always seeking salvation in others.

The trade unions, the anti-racist movements, the solidarity organisations, bar some, have thus far kept a silence. I assume this is because they cannot partake in a cause that’s led by someone they may view as the problem.

Nevertheless, it’s sad to see that in relation to this issue fought by the Muslim community following this meeting not a single white organisation or prominent white person has had the conscience to speak against the harassment on display.

No Labour out cry (so much for Sir Kier Starmer’s zero tolerance to racism), no demands for resignations, no stance against injustice. Why? Because it is a campaign organised by the people who are suffering at the front line. People who are equal citizens and have the affront to challenge the racist attitudes of those who seek to represent our town.

Muslims need to wake up and stake their claim to equality and to challenge racism and Islamophobia, to call out the injustice wherever it is seen or to whomever it is directed at.

Rotherham’s Muslims have suffered a process of marginalisation and targeted campaigns and these attitudes have permeated the institutions set up to challenge such rhetoric.

In any other sphere, or perhaps with a leading voice that was a white person, we may have had resignations pending investigations, a review of the decisions made, and a more diverse board set up so that the integrity of institution would remain intact.

But thus far we have had nothing, not even a response from the Council. It would seem as Orwell put it, that we are all equal but some are more equal than others.

Please feel free to support our campaign by signing our petition. 

UPDATE:

5Pillars approached Rotherham Council for a response to this article and specifically the accusations of racism.

Rotherham Council’s Chair of the Licensing Board Cllr Sue Ellis 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.”

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