The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An adorable 5-year-old set up a lemonade stand. Then she was fined $200.

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“I've done a bad thing.”

That's what the 5-year-old daughter of Andre Spicer told her dad, in tears. Her crime? Selling lemonade for about 66 cents at a stand she set up herself at the end of her block. She'd hung brightly colored signs off the front of a small table, hoping to induce visitors to stop. It was an entrepreneurial move — her family's home in Miles End was getting steady foot traffic as music fans made their way to the Lovebox Festival last weekend in London.

“She just wanted to put a smile on people's faces,” Spicer told the BBC. “She was really proud of herself.”

Then law enforcement swooped in.

According to Spicer, four local council enforcement officers approached the girl, turned on their body cameras, then launched into a “legalistic script” explaining that she'd broken the law. She was violating the Tower Hamlets Council rules on market stalls, which state, among other things, that you need a street license to run any kind of food stand and you must be over 17. There are additional rules, too, for food handlers.

“I was quite shocked,” Spicer said. “We were then issued a fine of 150 pounds. We packed up and walked home.” Spicer's daughter sobbed. She “had to watch 'Brave' a few times to calm down,” he said. When he suggested that maybe they'd apply for a permit and open a stall a different day, she demurred, saying that sounded “too scary.”

“I’m a professor in a business school, so I probably should have known some kind of permit was required,” Spicer wrote in an op-ed for the Telegraph. “But this was a five-year-old kid selling lemonade. She wasn’t exactly a public safety hazard.”

In that piece, Spicer also wrote that the fine sparked strong reactions:

When I shared our experiences with my cousin who lives in Chicago, he told me this would be a national scandal if it happened in the US. Americans would not stand for the spirit of free enterprise being throttled in someone so young. A colleague I work with thought this was an example of how we are discouraging budding female entrepreneurs. An Italian friend said it was yet another example of [Britain’s] addiction to pointless rules and regulations.

The council has since apologized.

“We are very sorry that this has happened. We expect our enforcement officers to show common sense and to use their powers sensibly,” they said in a statement. “This clearly did not happen. The fine will be canceled immediately and we have contacted Mr. Spicer and his daughter to apologize.”