The review into a restaurant that repeatedly hired illegal workers has been delayed because of the possibility of it having traded for years without a licence.

Police asked Kingston Council to revoke the licence that allows Lal Akash in New Malden to sell alcohol and serve food until late at night, after they visited three times with immigration officials in the last five years.

On each occasion, the first in 2015 and the most recent in February this year, they found staff without legal permission to work in the UK – a total of five across the three visits.

Home Office records show that some of the workers were being paid cash in hand, and were living upstairs in return for a few hours of work several days a week.

At least one of them, at the most recent visit, was in the country illegally.

Documents submitted to the council’s Licensing Sub-Committee by officials outline the struggle Lal Akash is going through.

So many staff left in 2017 and 2018 that there were no employees at the start of this year – even the chef who had worked there since 2015 had gone.

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A robbery in December 2018 and a flood in March 2019 compounded the restaurant’s troubles.

The High Street restaurant owner, Jomirul Hoque, went to the Guildhall on May 1 for councillors to decide whether or not to revoke his licence.

But the meeting had to be postponed because Mr Hoque might not in fact be the licence holder for Lal Akash – the council cannot find any record of his application form.

He bought the business in 2001, and his name appears on a licence in 2007, but council staff could not work out whether proper procedures had been followed.

The last person the council is sure held a premises licence for the restaurant died six or seven years ago.

The meeting was adjourned for two weeks while staff search their files – there were a lot of changes to the rules and the way the council kept its records in the mid-1990s – and they promised a full audit of all licences from this period, to ensure the confusion does not happen again.