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Monday, 22 April 2019
THE manager of a Henley restaurant where a man went on the rampage has criticised police for the speed of their response.
Hasan Chowdhury, who runs the Spice Merchant in Thames Side, said that if officers had arrived sooner, it would have prevented the restaurant from being damaged and his customers left terrified.
The man attacked Mr Chowdhury, injuring his hand, smashed a £400 plate glass window and hurled racial abuse at diners. He had to be restrained by customers and wasn’t arrested until police from Didcot arrived almost half an hour after being called.
Mr Chowdhury said: “I was very cross when the officers came and said, ‘fine, so now you’ve just come to pick up the pieces’, although I did apologise afterwards. It was very upsetting as the man was extremely aggressive.
“The authorities need to respond more quickly — I know of other premises where this has happened and it affects trade.”
The incident began at about 9.50pm on Monday last week when when two men walked into the restaurant, one of whom was talking loudly into a mobile phone and swearing.
A waiter approached the pair but they ignored him and the man on the phone, who appeared to be heavily under the influence of alcohol or drugs, continued his conversation within earshot of at least 20 diners.
Mr Chowdhury, who has run the restaurant for 13 years, then approached the pair who wanted to know whether the premises was a pub.
He replied that it was not and asked the pair to leave, at which point the man on the phone slammed it down on the bar and began hurling abuse.
Mr Chowdhury said: “He was jumping up and down on the floor while shouting and screaming, as if he wanted to attack everyone in sight.
“He was so out of control that I thought he had taken something illegal.
“I asked his friend to take him outside and he seemed very frightened. He said, ‘I can’t — he’s my boss’ and I said, ‘so what? Just look at what he’s doing’. By this time, people were looking around in shock.”
The man became increasingly agitated and started kicking chairs around.
At this point, Mr Chowdhury called the police, asking them to come immediately as he feared for people’s safety.
The men then stormed outside but loitered by the front window and the “boss” continued to hurl abuse, including extremely offensive racist terms, at diners inside.
Mr Chowdhury said: “My customers were genuinely scared. We had people from many different backgrounds that night and he was using the most appalling racist language about them as well as my team.
“I have run nightclubs before and I’m used to that kind of behaviour but it is the last thing you’d expect in a town like Henley — and on a week night at that.
“We’re an upmarket restaurant and don’t accept reservations past 10pm so we never attract that kind of trouble.
“A lot of the customers were aged over 50 and one was so frightened that he wanted us to lock the front door to keep the man out. I had to explain that we couldn’t do that for health and safety reasons.
“There were other people who’d finished eating but didn’t want to go outside in case he attacked them.”
The men eventually walked off in opposite directions and Mr Chowdhury, who was still on the phone to the police, followed the aggressor at a distance as he walked round into New Street.
He watched as the man began fighting with another man in the street.
Mr Chowdhury said the pair were grappling, rolling around and exchanging blows on the pavement for several minutes.
“They were fighting really viciously, to an extent I’d never seen before,” he said.
“I was very concerned and said to the police, ‘listen, you’d better get here quickly before they kill each other’.”
The fight broke up but then the man stormed back into the restaurant, where he tried to goad customers into fighting him.
He then went back outside where Mr Chowdhury tried to calm him down but the man shoved him to the ground so that he stumbled into a plastic drain pipe which snapped and his right hand was cut.
The assailant then charged back inside and continued his rampage.
He shattered the window by kicking it as a group of about eight diners restrained him and then bundled him back outside.
The man then loitered on the opposite side of the street, eventually ripping off his jacket and throwing it in the Thames before walking away.
Police finally arrived at about 10.20pm and arrested him in New Street a short while later.
Mr Chowdhury, who was treated for his injury at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, said: “I can’t imagine what was going through that man’s head or why he decided to return.
“He seemed to think my restaurant was a playground or that he was Superman and could do whatever he liked.
“It was like every other person was invisible and there was no reasoning with him.
“My customers shouldn’t have needed to restrain him but I’m glad they did because he was pretty determined and wasn’t giving up. We could have been forced to take drastic action to defend ourselves.
“The initial incident was unavoidable but the second wouldn’t have happened if the police had arrived quickly.
“It was so unexpected because nothing like this has ever happened here.
“We’ve been through 12 royal regattas and haven’t even hired security for the last few because although people get drunk and excited, it’s always manageable with a bit of care and diplomacy.
“I’ve been thinking that I need to be more careful but there’s only so much I can reasonably do.”
A Thames Valley Police spokeswoman: “We were called shortly before 10pm on November 13 to an incident in which a man was assaulted and a window was smashed at a restaurant in Thames Side, Henley.
“Officers attended and a 29-year-old man from Abingdon was arrested on suspicion of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and on suspicion of criminal damage to property and was released under investigation.
“An investigation is ongoing in relation to the incident and anyone who has any information or who witnessed it is asked to call 101, qu
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