Cleaner lived and died in cellar of grand Café Royal

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The Independent Online

A cleaner has been found dead in the basement of the Café Royal in London, where he lived in a secret hideaway for up to a year.

The man, 47, from Ukraine, was discovered by a security guard on Saturday morning in a hot and cramped refuse collection room, two floors beneath the Regent Street venue where he was employed as a kitchen cleaner. He was lying naked with severe facial bruising. A post-mortem examination, conducted earlier this week, found injuries "consistent with a fall".

The discovery has been an embarrassment to management of the Café Royal, one of London's grandest banqueting and meeting venues. Staff were making final preparations last night for 3,000 guests to a New Year's Bollywood-theme party.

Colleagues said the man slept on a campbed in the "baking" hot room between 12-hour shifts and survived on leftovers brought to him by friendly chefs.

One worker, who did not give his name, said the porter was not the first of the poorly-paid foreigners there to make their home in the labyrinthine basement of the Café Royal. He said two other men, also from Ukraine, lived in the same basement room but were sacked when they were found to be living there.

Another worker, from Africa, said: "I was shocked to learn that he had been living down in the cellar close to where he was found. There are lots of nooks and crannies down there where he could have remained hidden for months. He was part of furniture. No one paid much attention to what he was up to. Cleaning staff are coming in and out all the time, so it would have been easy for him to come into work and then just stay down there. They come from Africa, China and all over the world."

The porter had probably taken off all his clothes because the basement boilers and low ceilings made it extremely hot underground.

The African worker said: "It's terrible to think of him dying alone in such squalid conditions at Christmas time. He was a nice enough guy who would stop and share a joke. He could easily have been living there all the time. It's baking hot down there and the rubbish all goes down there so it's not a very pleasant place to be."

The eight-storey building off Piccadilly Circus, built in 1885 by a Parisian wine merchant, has been renovated in recent years by its owners from the nearby Le Meridien hotel.

A spokeswoman for the Café Royal said the man was employed by the Emprise Services agency, which recruits the kitchen cleaning staff. The agency is responsible for checking whether workers have the right to live and work in Britain. A spokeswoman confirmed that the man had provided the required documentation and complied "100 per cent with the immigration act".

Police have ruled out any suspicious causes and are awaiting the results of toxicology tests to determine whether the man had taken drink or drugs. An inquest will open early this month.