Massage parlour wins battle to stay open after false brothel claims which used 'racial language'

Oriental Style Massage and Beauty in Ham (Google Maps)
Oriental Style Massage and Beauty in Ham (Google Maps)

A massage parlour has won a battle to keep operating after it was falsely accused of being a brothel.

An advisor to Oriental Style Massage and Beauty in Ham said staff felt ‘hounded’ after the complaint from a ward councillor, who has not been named, led to Richmond Council licensing officers investigating the business.

While officers did not find any evidence supporting the original complaint in their investigation, they discovered the parlour on Ham Parade was in breach of conditions on its massage and special treatment licence regarding the keeping of staff and client records.

Officers opposed an application made in March by directors Jinlan Long and Yujun Qin, under company Jun Zi Lan Ltd, to renew the licence after finding continued breaches of these conditions in follow-up visits.

But the committee decided to renew the licence after ruling it should have the chance to install a new electronic records system at a licensing hearing on May 30.

A council report ahead of the meeting said the authority’s licensing team originally received a complaint about the business on October 10, 2023, alleging illegal activity was taking place there.

A letter from licensing officer John McGann said a ward councillor had made the complaint following concerns from a resident ‘about the premises being used as a brothel and that trafficked women may be used there’.

Licensing officers visited the parlour on October 12 and issued a warning letter stating it was in breach of conditions on its licence regarding the maintenance of staff and client records. They also notified the Home Office due to concerns about ‘possible illegal workers at the premises’, which led to licensing and immigration enforcement officers visiting the premises on November 18.

Although no illegal workers were found at the premises, the parlour was found to still be in breach of its conditions concerning the keeping of staff and client records.

It was sent another warning letter and invited to a meeting on November 28, but it was again found to be in breach of these conditions at another unannounced inspection on April 10.

The council’s licensing team recommended that the licence not be renewed, after the application by Ms Long and Ms Qin, after finding ‘continual breaches of the standard conditions in relation to maintaining pertinent records, despite efforts to engage’ with them at these visits.

Business advisor Richard East told the hearing the business had struggled to produce the correct records when officers visited due to the unannounced nature of the inspections, but that it had kept paper records for clients. He also raised concerns that it had been ‘judged and treated very poorly without cause’.

Mr East said the original complaint made by the ward councillor contained ‘outrageous language’ that he described as ‘racially biased and misogynistic’. He said words like ‘prostitution, brothel and sex trafficking were used’ in the complaint and copied in the warning letter.

The advisor claimed licensing officers did not contact the councillor to investigate the claim further, which ‘set off a sequence of events which made us feel that we were being hounded’. He said the immigration raid was ‘a waste of resources and ridiculous’ as they not find anyone working illegally in the parlour.

He said the parlour later met with the councillor who complained on May 17 and she ‘unreservedly apologised for the damage caused to the business’.

He said: “She very quickly and openly admitted that the entire complaint was of her own making. There hadn’t actually been any written evidence or any complaint whatsoever from anybody in Ham Parade, neighbouring shops or businesses.

“She had recently been on a course looking at safeguarding and she’d got it in her mind that because the business was trading on a very low footfall model… that she felt that the business couldn’t keep going and she made comments like it’s well-known in this country that these types of shops with these types of ladies working in them rely on other means to make ends meet, meaning sex being offered in the shop, which quite frankly we found disgusting.”

Mr East added: “It’s taken us to the edge of actually selling the business because we didn’t feel there was any other way out, but we can’t sell the business without a licence so we’re stuck.” He warned the business would face a ‘substantial loss of income’ if the licence was not renewed.

Lib Dem councillor Piers Allen said it is ‘perfectly reasonable for a ward councillor to raise concerns, particularly where it’s been raised by a resident, and ask for licensing officers to actually take up that concern’. Lib Dem councillor Rob O’Carroll added the council must carry out unannounced inspections to make sure records are not faked, and that the business breaching its conditions was ‘serious’ and put clients at risk.

Mr East said some records held by the business had not met the required standards, but that it has since moved from a paper-based record system to using treatment cards that meet industry standards. He said, if the licence was renewed, the business would transfer these records onto an electronic system that would be easily available to inspectors.

A report on the committee’s decision to renew the licence said: “The owners of Oriental Style Massage and Beauty are striving to make improvements and the licensing sub-committee hopes there will be full compliance with all relevant conditions going forward and that the sub-committee’s evaluation will not be disappointed. It noted that the business had been in operation for 10 years and during this time there had been no complaints until recently.”

It added: “Client records and records of staff should be available within 24 hours and there cannot be any further breaches of conditions.”