The organiser of an outdoor market that was shut down by police due to concerns about a lack of social distancing says he is now facing a £10,000 fine.

Thames Valley Police officers closed Lower Earley Farmers’ Market on Saturday, February 27, and ordered people to leave.

The force said that no fines were issued and the incident has been handed over to the local authority to consider if any further action is necessary.

But organiser Matt Belcher, who is the director of food wholesaler C A Belcher and Son, claims he was cautioned and could be hit with a fine in court the coming weeks.

He admits the market was busy but says social distancing measures were in place and the situation “could have been handled a lot differently”.

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Mr Belcher is concerned that his company could go under if he is prevented from running any outdoor markets and then hit with a £10,000 fine.

“It’s devastating,” he added. “This market was the only thing that was keeping us going.”

He said vendors were dispersing people who were hanging around to enjoy the sunshine on Saturday afternoon, but police then took the decision to close the market.

“I got slapped with a caution, they’ve reported me for organising a mass gathering and there’s a potential fine of £10,000,” he said.

“I know the police are trying to do their best for the community, but so am I.

“We are trying to arrange a nice thing here, with local produce, and support the community, so they can come and buy food and feel safe in an open-air environment where there is space for people to move about and have two metres between them.

“They are not crammed in an aisle where they can’t go anywhere.”

According to the lockdown rules, market stalls selling food and drink can remain open and hospitality businesses can provide takeaway services.

The government also states that anyone who organises and unlawful gathering of more than 30 people may face a £10,000 fine.

C A Belcher and Son is a wholesale food retailer that has taken a big hit during the Covid-19 pandemic, as the restaurants, pubs, and hotels it serves have been forced to close.

Mr Belcher said his company has taken a coronavirus Bounce Back Loan from the government.

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But the company has also diversified its operations and began running outdoor markets in November.

C A Belcher and Son is now working with Wokingham Borough Council and Thames Valley Police to make sure that future outdoor markets can be run safely.

A council spokesman said: “It is the responsibility of the market’s organisers to make sure that it is safe and meets all legal requirements.

“But the council is willing to work with them to help make sure the market can fulfil its obligations.”

In a previous statement, Thames Valley Police said: “When we arrived, we encountered a number of people who were putting themselves and others at risk due to lack of social distancing and non-wearing of masks.

“Engaging with the organisers, we agreed that the market should close 30 minutes early to ensure the safety of the public.

“No fines were issued, and the incident was reported to the local authority to consider if any further formal action should be taken.

“We are committed to engaging, explaining, and encouraging the public, and will only move to enforcement as a last resort.

“We really do recognise that this is a tough time for people, but we must all continue to play our part, and we all have a responsibility to ensure that we maintain our commitment to the restrictions so that we can emerge from lockdown.”