The owner and manager of British Raj Express in Royston has been ordered to pay nearly £150,000 for food hygiene failures - including rodent droppings, piles of rubbish and poor food storage.

Muhammad Ali Safwaan Choudhury owns and manages the currently closed restaurant at 73 Kneesworth Street, operating under the name Romeo and Juliet Limited.

Mr Choudhury, who has offered his "unconditional apologies" for the restaurant's condition, appeared at St Albans Magistrates' Court on Thursday, May 30.

He previously pleaded guilty to a number of food hygiene offences on January 12 at Stevenage Magistrates' Court, and agreed to pay the council's costs of £7,252.86.

Rat droppings found at British Raj Express in 2023Rat droppings found at British Raj Express in 2023 (Image: North Herts Council)

At his latest court appearance, Mr Choudhury, from Luton, was fined £15,000 for an offence in February 2023, £20,000 for an offence in March 2023 and £40,000 for an offence in May 2023, as well as a £2,000 victim surcharge.

A collection order of £500 per month will start on June 28.

Mr Choudhury was also given an interim Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO), prohibiting him from working at the restaurant, and a full CBO application hearing is scheduled for September 20.

The poppadom plate, taken at the restaurant in 2023The poppadom plate, taken at the restaurant in 2023 (Image: North Herts Council)

Romeo and Juliet Limited was fined £30,000 for the first offence and £40,000 for the second offence, plus an additional victim surcharge of £2,000.

The amount totals £149,000 which will be paid to the courts, and £156,252.86 including the council’s costs.

North Herts Council brought about the prosecution following visits by environmental health officers.

A dirty light switch at British Raj Express in 2023A dirty light switch at British Raj Express in 2023 (Image: North Herts Council)

Officers visited the premises on a number of occasions in 2023, and although food hygiene issues were drawn to the attention of the owner and manager, no improvements were found on subsequent inspections.

Issues included:

  •  Not keeping the premises clean – areas below equipment within the kitchen were greasy and collecting debris including rat droppings, dirty tea towels around the kitchen were being used for cleaning, and a light switch within the dry store area was dirty which could contaminate hands.

  • Poor storage of waste and control of pests – waste piled up in an uncontrolled manner with the back door left open allowing access to pests, rodent monitoring boxes not kept in good condition.

  • Inadequate hand washing facilities for food handlers – lack of hot water, soap and hand drying materials and poor drainage – the wash hand basin was so slow draining that food handlers could not effectively wash their hands due to the inability to clean them in fresh water.

  • Poor practice by food handlers – correct protective white coats and aprons were not always worn by workers in the kitchen, including the head chef.

  • Poor food storage and cross contamination – food kept uncovered under sink, ready to eat poppadoms stored on a plate covered in greasy, damaged foil, food in fridge with no stated shelf life and no method to ensure ready to eat food was being stored in containers that had not previously been used to store raw meat/fish

Mr Choudhury said: "I would like to offer my unconditional apologies for the unacceptable slip in standards that occurred, at a time when I was focusing on my other restaurant venture.

"Unfortunately I was not present enough and had relied on staff to manage operations at British Raj Express, though this is no excuse.

"Since these issues were raised well over a year ago, I took active steps in rectifying and bringing the standards up to a good level.

"The takeaway has been closed for some months now as I had planned further renovations, with the intention to re-open as I have teamed up with a group of chefs with an excellent background in Bangladeshi, Indian and fusion cuisines.

"Whilst I cannot comment too much on the hearing at magistrates, as the case is still open, sadly the council has taken advantage of my lack of legal representation.

"The magistrates, with limited information, have given what I believe is an extremely unfair sentence which I intend to appeal at Crown Court."

Jo Doggett, North Herts Council’s service director for housing and environmental health, said: "Inspecting restaurants and other food businesses is a vital service that some people may not realise we provide, helping to ensure residents can enjoy their favourite takeaway or meal out safely.


"This case shows how important our work is, and the significant fines prove how harmful the breaches were.

Food under the sink at British Raj Express in 2023Food under the sink at British Raj Express in 2023 (Image: North Herts Council)

"We have a team of Environmental Health Officers who carry out routine inspections as well as investigate food poisoning complaints at food businesses across the district. 

"These routine inspections provide the ratings for the Food Standards Agency’s ‘scores on the doors’ scheme, giving a food hygiene level between zero and five to every café, pub, restaurant, takeaway and delivery outlet in North Herts. 

"We also provide food hygiene training courses for new staff to help food businesses meet their legal training responsibilities."