STAFF at a steak restaurant which closed unexpectedly claim they are owed thousands of pounds in unpaid wages.

The Rare Cow, in High Road, Earls Colne, ceased trading last month after it emerged a cruise sales company run by its boss, Richard Lester, was under investigation by Essex Police.

Staff at the restaurant, launched by Mr Lester in April last year, say they fear the company will be liquidated before they are paid and no one is telling them what will happen to their wages.

Awoman, who asked not to be named, said: “I’m owed a month and a half in wages.

The chef is owed about £6,000.

There were about 15 of us working there and everyone is owed at least a month.

“We can’t find out what’s happening.

“Richard Lester is still the director of the company, but he gave control of the branch to his ex-fiancee, Svetlana Broussova, before this all happened, but she is no longer a director.

“Another businessman has bought the branches in Billericay and Writtle, but not Earls Colne and we can’t find out what’s happening and have heard it’s going to be liquidated.”

She said a number of people who had paid to stay in rooms at the pub had also lost out and staff were taking legal advice about how to get paid.

Cruisemiles, a business set up by Mr Lester in 2007, which sold cruises through a voucher and “miles” scheme similar to Airmiles, is being investigated by Essex Police after several people complained they were owed money when it folded.

Multi-millionaire businessman Alfie Best, 43, of London Road, Thurrock, bought out Mr Lester from the Rare Cow branches in New Jacksons Lane, Billericay, and Chequers Road, Writtle.

According to Companies House, Mr Lester remains the sole director of Cow and Lobster Limited and Rare Cow Limited, which ran the Earls Colne restaurant.

Miss Broussova, 47, has resigned as a director and company secretary of both.

She said: “You need to speak to Richard about this.

I’m no longer a director and I’m also owed money.”

Mr Lester, who last week denied any wrongdoing in connection with Cruisemiles and said he had co-operated with police, was yesterday unavailable for comment.

A spokesman for Mr Best said: “Alfie Best has not bought the restaurant in Earls Colne and has nothing whatsoever to do with it.”

The building is owned by Keith Ripper, boss of car transport firm Transporter based at the Old Airfield, Gosfield.

His finance director, Russell Hazelhurst, said: “The restaurant has ceased trading and Mr Ripper is owed about three months rent.

“We are waiting to hear back from the company about what’s happening.”