Talking Chicken

Feb. 5 2002 3:20 PM

Talking Chicken

What happened at Nando's.

A man was shot to death on Uxbridge Road the other day. Keiron Bernard, whom police have described as a 25-year-old record producer and disc-jockey, was hit by two bullets inside the Shepherds Bush branch of Nando's chicken restaurant at about 4 p.m. on January 30. He died 150 yards away inside his Honda Prelude, which had crashed through the front window of Winkworth's, the estate agents. Gabriella Slegova, a waitress at the restaurant, was also hit by a bullet. She is recovering from a gunshot wound to her left arm at Charing Cross Hospital.

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Nando's, a South African company with 47 outlets in Britain, is one 14 chicken restaurants along this busy half-mile stretch of Uxbridge Road. Chicken Cottage, Chicken Point, Tennessee Fried Chicken, and Qashie's Roti Hut are among the others. The owner of a nearby furniture shop laments Shepherds Bush's new status as "chicken centre of England". "Every shop that shuts round here reopens as a chicken restaurant," he says. Most of these restaurants are fast-food or take-away establishments with fluorescent white lights. Chickens clumped together on skewers twirl silently in rotisseries placed near the shop front window to entice passers-by. Nando's restaurants are more upmarket than most of their competitors on the Uxbridge Road and more expensive, too. They have wooden tables and terracotta-tiled floors.

Nando's, which is derived from the first name of one of the company's two South African founders, Fernando Duarte, is well known for it's "Peri-Peri chicken", a spicy dish invented by Portuguese settlers in Mozambique. Peri-Peri is a chili indigenous to Southern Africa. "ExPERI-PERIence the difference", Nando's Web site suggests. According to the company, which opened its first restaurant in South Africa in 1988, Nelson Mandela, is an admirer of Nando's Peri-Peri chicken. "[He] loved eating Nando's so much while in power that his personal assistant … Beryl Baker made sure there was always a good supply of it about."

Witnesses say the shooting began inside the restaurant after an argument erupted between two groups of young black men. Mr Bernard and a friend were at table when three men entered and a row began. The nature of the argument hasn't been established by the police—one person says it was about a woman—but the confrontation turned violent immediately. One man in the second group drew a gun and leapt on to a counter, while either Mr Bernard or his friend drew their own gun. Five, possibly six bullets were fired, one of which hit Ms Slegova, while two hit Mr Bernard in the torso, who then fled the restaurant. He ran to his car, a black Honda Prelude with tinted windows that was parked in front of Nando's. Now fatally wounded, Bernard opened the car door, started the engine and drove west along the Uxbridge Road at high speed.

Mr Ali, a 42-year-old local businessman, was sitting at a window table in the Beirut Patisserie, about 60 yards west of Nando's and on the opposite side of road. "It was very scary," Mr Ali, who has a wife and two children and lives nearby, said. Shortly after he heard shots, he saw a man running out of Nando's and into a car. "The car was travelling very fast," said Mr. Ali, who believes this area of London has become too violent and is considering moving his family to Kensington and Chelsea (which sounds like a bit of a pipe dream). Hammersmith is not an especially violent London borough, but nor is it especially safe. And it's not as safe as Kensington and Chelsea, the borough on its eastern boundary. Of the 164,035 violent crimes (including rape) reported to the Metropolitan Police between April 2000 and March 2001, 4,587 were committed in Hammersmith and Fulham. In the same year, five of London's 171 murders were committed in the borough.

Mr Ali said Mr Bernard's Honda clipped a BMW parked in front of the Beirut Patisserie before knocking down a man on a moped, who would have one his legs amputated several days later. The Honda, with its wounded driver, then veered off the road and crashed through the front window of Winkworth's. The manager, 30-year-old Carl Burgess, has worked for Winkworth's since 1992. Moments before Mr. Bernard's car came through the window, he got up from his desk to speak to a colleague at the back of the office. Had he not done so, he would have been crushed. The Honda, which may have been travelling at 60 mph as it came through the window, was brought to a halt in less than 20 feet by the office furniture, most of which was wrecked. Although stationary, the car's engine was still running. Mr Burgess says he approached the driver's door to see who was inside and to turn off the engine—exhaust was filling the office. He opened the door, but the tinted windows made it hard to see. Momentarily, Mr Burgess thought the car had no driver. Then he saw Mr Bernard, dressed in black, slumped in the driver's seat. He was breathing, but unconscious.

Mr Bernard died shortly afterwards. Neither the police nor the ambulance men were able to revive him. His body was taken to Fulham Mortuary for a post mortem. The next day, January 31, police arrested a 20-year-old man in connection with the murder. The unnamed man has not been charged and was released on bail. He must report to West London police headquarters on March 6 for further questioning. Detective Chief Inspector Duncan Wilson of Operation Trident's South London Homicide Investigation team is in charge of inquiries. The murder of Mr Bernard is like many others cases. A seemingly insignificant conversation becomes an argument about respect or the lack of respect shown by one person or gang to another. Guns are drawn, shots are fired, and in the worst instances someone dies. Yesterday, the manager of Nando's Shepherds Bush decided to reopen it. After a five-day absence, Nando's Peri-Peri chicken is back on Uxbridge Road, although the owner of the furniture store will be one local resident unlikely to make a visit. "When I die," he said yesterday, "I don't want to smell of chicken in heaven."

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