When jackbooted thugs come for your lemonade

Photo: mattbuck. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mattbuck Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Generic 2.0 license.

Tower Hamlets high-rises. Nefarious things can happen under cover of fog.

On the streets of Tower Hamlets, a London borough, a five-year-old set up a lemonade stand. She charged 50 pence for a small glass, and a pound for a large one. That’s about 65 cents or a dollar-thirty. Her father, a professor at Cass Business School, proudly watched.

Many people attending a nearby festival bought lemonade. All was well for half an hour, when a group of four malcontents showed up. They were local council enforcement officers. They showed their seriousness by switching on a body cam. SorryWatch chooses to believe they were wearing jackboots, shiny ones. One read aloud a long legal statement. The essence of it was that she had sold lemonade without a trading permit, and would be fined £150. (About $195.)

We don’t know if it was before or after she burst into tears, asking “Have I done a bad thing?”, that one of the officers said she’d only need to pay £90 ($117ish) if she was quick about it.

The officers gave her a Fixed Penalty Notice and left, no doubt feeling they’d made the borough better by their decisive action. Why it took four of them has not been explained.

Photo: Stefan Schubert. https://www.flickr.com/photos/baltasar89/8420485405/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Generic 2.0 license.

Merida (as in Brave). “This! for your red tape.”

Father and daughter left, the daughter sobbing all the way home. The father, Andre Spicer, reported “She was very upset and had to watch Brave a few times to calm down.”

He told her they could get a permit and sell lemonade another day. “No. It’s too scary.” (Plus, you have to be 17.)

Professor Spicer tweeted to the Tower Hamlets account, “Took 5 year old daughter to end of our road to run lemonade stand. Fined £180. She’s now sobbing, ‘I did a bad thing’. Thx”

They didn’t respond.

Spicer then wrote a column about it for The Telegraph.

That got the council’s attention. The next morning they tweeted an apology:

So, about the lemonade standard incident… we are very sorry that this has happened. (1/3)

We expect our enforcement officers to show common sense, and to use their powers sensibly. This clearly did not happen. (2/3)

The fine will be cancelled immediately and we have contacted Mr Spicer and his daughter to apologise. 3/3

Bad apology. Stupid passive-voice avoidance. They are sorry “that this has happened”? So is the 5-year-old. So is her father. Maybe, so are you. But it’s the council’s responsibility, not yours, so they need to step up and acknowledge it.

Italian day, 2007. Child on right suddenly wonders if she needs to produce a permit. Photo: Office of Senator Joe Biden. Public domain.

Italian day, 2007. Child on right suddenly wonders if she needs to produce a permit.

Some blame gets assigned in the next tweet – the unidentified enforcement officers are thrown under the bus. (Luckily, buses have four wheels, one for each officer.) It is correct that they didn’t show common sense.

The fine being cancelled is good. It’s good that they intend to apologize to the Spicers, though we don’t know whether that apology will be just as craven.

Instead of saying it was all the fault of the senseless enforcement officers, will they say what they’re doing to introduce common sense into their efforts?

Tower Hamlets is in the process of adding officers. To judge by their tweet-stream, they’re focused on drug use, specifically a “No laughing matter” campaign against nitrous oxide. Because they’re fed up with “…groups of people taking nitrous oxide in the streets and the noise nuisance and littering it causes.”

Was it the same senseless gang of officers that a little later threatened Isambard’s Cycles with a fine for the crime of putting a free bicycle pump on the sidewalk? They claimed the pump was obstructing foot/pram/wheelchair traffic. Yet as the owners bitterly noted, “if we get a licence from the council for it, then oddly it ceases to be an obstruction.”

Photo: Al Stephenson, for the EPA. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/557757 Public domain.

This photo is from 1970, which explains the great prices.

Again, there seems to have been a little media kerfuffle. Whoops! That led to second thoughts and a peaceful resolution. Apparently the fine was waived, the council offered to “install a bollard that can double as a bicycle pump”, and a compromise was reached about where the pump would be located.

Sounds like petty officialdom running amok. And evasive higher-ups. A reassuring apology needs to address that.

(Thanks to Wendy G, Senior Tennis Correspondent, for alerting SorryWatch to this story, which she calls “ridiculous in the extreme, especially in the context of police cuts being blamed for various more significant problems.”)

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