A beauty salon that police say “exploited” illegal workers was denied a licence on Thursday (June 4). 

Immigration, licensing, trading standards, and police officers visited Sabrina Beauty Salon on October 30 last year and found ten unlicensed nail technicians working there. 

“Eight members of staff working at the venue were arrested for immigration offences, all were from China, none had authority to work, and had entered the country illegally,” according to the police report.  

The team also found that the owner, Amanuel Fissehaye, was running the salon in Rye Lane, Peckham, without a special treatments licence, necessary when offering nail treatments, after failing to renew it.

Officers visited the salon again on January 29 and found three unlicensed nail technicians working, while trading standards found the origin of some of the products could not be accounted for.  

Concerns were also raised about the safety of the equipment.  

Today Southwark’s licensing sub-committee members considered an application to renew the licence from Genet Berhe, Mr Fissehaye’s ex-partner.  

Ms Berhe and Mr Fissehaye entered into a “binding management agreement” in early February, which means Ms Berhe would run the business from then on, although her ex-partner would remain the leaseholder.  

Licensing enforcement officer Charlie Jerrom argued that Mr Fissehaye would effectively still run the business as the pair lived at the same address, according to the electoral roll.  

But Graham Hopkins, a licensing consultant representing Ms Berhe, said she no longer lives with him.

He said: “Mr Fissehaye is no longer connected with the business, he’s not involved with the running of it […] or any management responsibilities. 

“Comment has been made about a relationship with my client and Mr Fissehaye – that is long over, and as you can see from the management agreement they live at separate addresses.  

“Ms Berhe has taken over the running of Sabrina’s as a result of the agreement as an additional source of income. 

“She’s been completely open and transparent in relation to this, and there is no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing on her part and none that she was involved with, or had anything to do with the premises prior to February 7. 

“She cannot be held responsible for any breaches or occurrences that took place before that date when Mr Fissehaye was the licence holder.”  

Mr Hopkins described Ms Berhe as a “person of good character”, who has “no connection other than as landlord and tenant with Mr Fissehaye”.  

“Ms Berhe is a serving and practicing nurse at a local NHS hospital, I can confirm that she has been working even this week and has had to take time off to be here.  

“She is one of our NHS heroes,” he said, adding that the five nail technicians that will work at the salon have provided documentation that they have the right to work in the UK – three are British citizens, and the other two have residence permits, while all have given details of their qualifications.  

He said: “To hold Ms Berhe responsible for what happened prior to that date would be a blatant injustice and breach of the rules of natural justice and any sense of fairness.”

Committee members questioned Ms Berhe about her qualifications as a manager, experience in the industry, Government grants received amid lockdown, and her relationship with Mr Fissehaye.

Ms Berhe told the committee that although she didn’t have experience working in beauty salons, she was “well-prepared” to run the business, and has researched the legal and management side of the role well.    

She said: “I assure you 100 per cent that I will follow all the rules and regulations.”

But police, licensing, and trading standards said they believed the business would be run exactly how it was the last time. 

In a letter objecting to the licence being granted, licensing officer PC Graham White said: “We believe that workers have and will be exploited, and the management have failed to comply with various legislation relating to working practice, employment law, and immigration law.”

Ray Moore, principal trading standards enforcement officer at the council, told members he didn’t believe there would be any changes in how the business would be run. 

“To my mind the business was being run by the five operatives who were there on the two previous visits, and it seems to me that going forward that’s how the business will be run, and in the mean time they’ve just changed who they pay their rent to,” he said.  

After debating privately, committee members decided to reject the application.

Their reasons will be sent out to all parties within five working days.