Published: 20:59, 15 February 2021
| Updated: 10:09, 17 February 2021
The owners of an independent fashion store have spoken of their shock after being fined £1,000 for selling a T-shirt to an undercover trading standards officer.
Medway Council issued a press release today saying the unnamed store in Rochester had been issued with the fixed penalty notice for breaching coronavirus regulations - before the shop's owners 'outed' themselves on social media.
The council said the shop had allowed a purchase to be made in store rather than using a click-and-collect service, having previously been issued with a warning.
Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “We understand the difficulties that businesses are currently experiencing due to the pandemic. However, this is no excuse to put residents at risk.
"Despite having already received guidance and advice from our Trading Standards team, this business continued to flout the latest government guidelines."
The owner of Copenhagen Blue, an independent fashion retailer based in the High Street, tonight identified themselves as the offenders following speculation on social media - but claimed they had been victims of over-zealous enforcement.
In a statement, the shop's MD Kathrine Armstrong said: "In order to quell all unhelpful and damaging comments and speculation, I will state that the fine was issued to Copenhagen Blue.
"The initial formal warning was issued with absolutely zero basis.
"During the click-and-collect service on Saturday 6th February, I was observed removing a piece of jewellery from a mannequin in the window that a customer had ordered online.
"Members of the general public, who to my knowledge are not customers and were just looking at the window whilst I was doing this, were according to the Trading Standards observer, being enticed by myself to purchase goods.
"I’m actually at a loss to know how I can control people who choose to look through my window whilst I’m performing tasks inside."
She described the events that led to the later fine as 'entrapment', explaining: "I am not going to deny that an item of clothing was sold.
"I also wish to apologise for a breach of the regulations. However, I think it is important to explain the context in which this sting operation by Medway Trading Standards took place.
"Just as I was finishing the click-and-collect service and was about to leave the shop, there was a knock on the door window.
"Upon opening the door a female member of the ‘public’ stuck her head through the gap, totally disrespecting any social distancing guidelines and asked if she could enter the shop, as she wished to purchase a T-shirt for her daughter.
"Despite her attempts, I refused her entry into the shop. Whilst she waited outside I put the T-shirt in a bag and took her debit card for a contactless payment.
"Contradictory to the statement made on the Medway Council website, at no point did this undercover Trading Standards employee, despite her attempts to do so, enter the shop.
"The transaction was carried out by myself in a safe, socially-distanced and controlled manner. I admit though that it was wrong to process the transaction in the way that it was.
"I should have asked her whilst she was standing in the street, to order the item by sending me a text message; upon receipt of this text message the transaction would have been able to proceed in exactly the same way that it did, albeit in a legal way.
"For all retailers this has been a challenging period and we have done everything we can to survive, to make sure that Rochester still has a viable and trading High Street when life returns to some form of normality. It would seem on this occasion that I have not met standards, and for that I apologise."
The store received strong support from customers following the statement.
Nicola Groombridge posted on Facebook: "This makes me so angry. I hope you can appeal this, especially with the manner in which they 'caught' you.
"You have a lovely shop and impeccable customer service and you deserve better than this."