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I had my busiest week in 18 years, says Belfast chippy owner in hygiene row

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Paul Bradley outside his takeaway on the Lisburn Road

Paul Bradley outside his takeaway on the Lisburn Road

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

The food hygiene rating that has led to the dispute between Mr Bradley and Belfast City

The food hygiene rating that has led to the dispute between Mr Bradley and Belfast City

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Paul Bradley outside his takeaway on the Lisburn Road

A Belfast chip shop owner who is being prosecuted for failing to display a food hygiene rating claims customers are supporting him now more than ever.

Paul Bradley (60) runs the popular takeaway eatery Cafe Fish on the Lisburn Road together with wife Gabby McDowell (56), who is manager of the sit-in restaurant further down the street.

The sit-in restaurant - which has a food hygiene rating of one out of five - is being taken to court for failing to ensure the valid rating sticker was displayed prominently during an inspection in May last year.

Mr Bradley, who has been in the hospitality industry for around 40 years, claimed the current system is overloaded with paperwork and feels he is being punished for being busy.

"I have ran this business for almost 19 years and I have about a dozen employees. I don't think this system deals with the fundamentals in the food business. It is more of a paper exercise devised in an office," he said.

"If you are not a busy shop you can probably sit down and fill in your paperwork and that's fine. I am not saying there is not a call for certain checks.

We must be doing something right and that is why I have taken this stance. Cafe Fish owner Paul Bradley

"I think, though, it is very cumbersome the way they have it set out currently."

Once the manager of the flagship Harry Ramsden's restaurant in Lisburn, Mr Bradley said that being a chippy owner is his life, with the only judgment he is concerned about being that of his customers.

The takeaway branch of Cafe Fish was most recently awarded a rating of four out of five by the Food Standards Agency.

"I am so passionate about fish and chips like you wouldn't believe," he said.

"It is crazy the amount of customers that have supported me during this. The week in the New Year was the busiest week we have had in 18-and-a-half years.

"For a business to continue growing in that length of time is unheard of.

"We must be doing something right and that is why I have taken this stance.

"I would jump through hoops if a customer doesn't get good quality. This is about Belfast City Council trying to beat us with a stick instead of helping and advising us and trying to get us on board."

Mr Bradley believes that officials in charge of designing the hygiene checks are refusing to work with him and is pleading for inspections to have a greater "on the ground" focus.

"There doesn't seem to be anyone putting this together who has worked in a practical way in this industry," he added.

"Surely the Environmental Health Service and Belfast City Council are there to promote businesses like myself, not beat us with a stick?

"They said the rating label was not on a prominent enough position. I pointed out three different shops within 500 yards of me and each one of them had the sign in a similar position on the window.

"I can stand by everything in my shop, cleanliness or food quality wise. I have zero fear of Environmental Health Services ever coming through the door."

While not much fazes the chip shop owner, Mr Bradley said that the running battle with the council over the signs and hygiene regime had taken its toll on him personally.

The chippy was prosecuted in January 2018 for the same offence and was the first business in Northern Ireland to be convicted under the legislation.

The company was fined £250 and ordered to pay £120 legal costs.

"In 2016 I took Type 2 diabetes. That was around the time really when Belfast City Council started on this," Mr Bradley said.

"The stress of it all has been absolutely enormous. It is not about the money, it is about the principle.

"When it happened last time, my wife told the Environmental Health inspector she was going to throw the towel in and I persuaded her not to.

"I almost feel like putting the key in the door and saying to the council they have won."

A council spokesperson said that they were not currently able to comment on any live legal proceedings, while the Food Standards Agency did not wish to provide a comment on the case.

The latest case is due to be heard before Belfast Magistrates Court on March 10.

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