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Company director disqualified following food hygiene and housing offences

Exterior Of Good Season Express

The operator of a Chelmsford takeaway has been disqualified from acting as a company director after contravening multiple food hygiene standards, breaching a Housing Act Emergency Prohibition Order, and failing to meet her legal duties as the manager of a house in multiple occupation.

Star Crystal Ltd and Ms Kai Wen Cheong were ordered to pay fines and costs totalling £11,620.

Collaborative effort by public health and protection services 

On 28 March at Chelmsford Magistrate’s Court, Star Crystal Ltd and Ms Cheong pleaded guilty to five offences under food hygiene legislation in response to the mismanagement of Good Season Express takeaway. Star Crystal Ltd was fined £500 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £200. Cheong, the director of Star Crystal Ltd and manager of Good Season Express, was fined £1,000, ordered to pay a £400 victim surcharge and costs of £2,000, and disqualified from holding a directorship of any company for three years.

Ms Cheong was also found guilty after trial of seven offences under housing legislation, in relation to operating a licensable house in multiple occupation (HMO) without the required licence, failing to comply with management regulations in respect of HMOs, and using a prohibited room at the same address. For these offences Cheong was fined £1,800 and ordered to pay costs of £5,000 and a victim surcharge of £720.

Councillor Donna Eley, Cabinet Member for a Safer Chelmsford, says this case demonstrates how public health and protection services work together to protect the public.

“This case required collaboration between the council’s business compliance and housing standards teams. It was a complex scenario that didn’t have an assumed or guaranteed outcome, but thanks to the hard work of the officers involved, a clear enough case was presented to the court to ensure a fitting sentence was served.

“While fines and costs are an important part of prosecuting public health offences, the priority in this case was the removal of the director, who, despite much instruction from our officers, had repeatedly failed to uphold her responsibilities. This outcome is testament to the team’s holistic approach to keeping Chelmsford’s residents and visitors safe.”

Cllr Donna Eley, Cabinet Member for a Safer Chelmsford, Chelmsford City Council

Food hygiene conditions required urgent improvement

On 13 December 2022, a routine environmental health inspection of Good Season Express found multiple food hygiene contraventions, resulting in the issuance of three Hygiene Improvement Notices and a Food Hygiene Rating of 0.

While carrying out the inspection, Chelmsford City Council’s lead business compliance officer found meat being defrosted in a cardboard box on the floor, cooked and raw food left uncovered, and witnessed poor cooking practices that could risk high levels of salmonella and campylobacter.

Food Not Cooked Thoroughly Nor Stored Hygienically At Good Season Express
A routine inspection found issues with how food was being defrosted, stored, and cooked.

The officer also found dirty surfaces, dirty cleaning utensils, and structural issues with the building that meant it could not be kept clean and in suitable condition to prepare food. Good Season Express was also found to be without an appropriate Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, which is a contravention of hygiene standards.

Unlicensed and unsafe HMO

Just one week before this food hygiene inspection of Good Season Express takeaway, the council’s housing standards team had conducted their own investigation at the same address.

On 6 December 2022, housing officers discovered the property was operating as an HMO without the appropriate licensing. Furthermore, the poor management of the property raised concerns for the safety of its occupants.

A spokesperson for the council’s housing standards team says this case was complex and very concerning:

“Our officers had visited the property in August 2022 and found cause for concern, but what they found during the December inspection uncovered the conclusive evidence we needed to bring charges.

“We believed the property to have six residents and found evidence of another person sleeping in an outbuilding that had been subject to a prohibition order. We found a lack of fire safety, with smoke detectors covered by clingfilm; fire doors with broken self-closing devices and partially missing smoke seals and intumescent strips; and an obstructed escape route. The property was generally in a state of disrepair and any maintenance or upkeep that had been carried out was of a low standard.

“HMO managers must maintain certain standards in order to support the safety and wellbeing of their tenants. Failure to obtain an HMO licence was just one of the offences we found; the greater concern to us was the high risk of serious injury that tenants were being exposed to. Even something as simple as displaying the duty manager’s contact information, so they could report issues such as the radiators being off on a day the outside temperature was approximately 2°C, were not being met.”

Housing Standards team, Chelmsford City Council

Following the inspection, Ms Cheong was summoned for seven offences:

  • Having control of or managing an HMO without the required licence.
  • Breaching an Emergency Prohibition Order (issued on 1 September 2022 by Housing Standards prohibiting the residential use of an outbuilding at the address).
  • Failing to display required information to occupant(s) of an HMO.
  • Three offences of failing to take safety measures required to protect HMO occupants from injury.
  • Failure to maintain common parts, fixtures, fittings, and appliances of an HMO and to ensure that all common parts of the HMO are maintained in good and clean decorative repair.

What this means for Good Season Express

The Judge’s decision to disqualify Ms Cheong from acting as a company director means that she cannot “be involved in forming, marketing or running a company” and therefore cannot make any business decisions in regard to Good Season Express or any other business.

When someone is disqualified from acting as a company director their details are published online, in the Companies House database of disqualified directors. Their details will automatically be removed from the database once the disqualification ends (in Cheong’s case, three years’ time). If an individual is found to break the terms of such a disqualification they can be fined or sent to prison for up to two years.

Star Crystal Ltd, the business behind Good Season Express in December 2022, is no longer operating and the takeaway is now being managed by another company, not registered to Ms Cheong.

No application for an HMO licence for the property in question has been received by Chelmsford City Council. Visits to the property since December 2022 have found it to be occupied by fewer than five people (meaning it does not require a HMO licence).

Chelmsford Magistrate's Court
Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court, where the case was heard.

If you suspect someone of managing a house in multiple occupation that is not on the HMO register you should contact the council’s housing standards team or make a report online.

The council’s business compliance team recommends checking the Food Hygiene Score of any food business before you eat there. You can do this by completing a simple search on the Food Standards Agency website.

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Molly Smith
Molly Smith

Molly writes stories about public health, community safety, leisure, community sport, parking and Chelmsford Market.