An independent trader who was threatened with a fine of up to £2,500 for putting a small advert on a fence he erected has had it cancelled after his story featured in the Guardian.

Stephen Aldridge, 50, of Wanstead Fencing, was outraged after being sent a letter from Waltham Forest Council stating he had broken regulations for putting up the temporary notice outside a house in Bushwood, Leytonstone.

But the authority has now apologised and backed down on the grounds that Mr Aldridge did not know he was doing anything wrong.

He said: "I'm very pleased they cancelled it but this should never have happened in the first place.

"The advert had my phone number on it in big letters, all they had to do was call me and ask me to take it down.

"I'm sceptical that they cancelled the fine because I wasn't aware of the regulations - ignorance is not a defence in law.

"If that was the case then presumably anyone who got a fine from the council could get it cancelled by saying they didn't know.

"I think it's more because they were embarrassed by the bad publicity of their ridiculous fine so I'd like to thank the Guardian for highlighting it."

Mr Aldridge was initially asked to pay a £60 fine within 14 days, but was told it could rise to £2,500 if he failed to do so and the case came to court.

Under current regulations builders are allowed to install signs while work is going on, but must remove them when it is finished.

Mr Aldridge was also mid-way through the work and was waiting for the delivery of a gate to finish the job off.

Mr Aldridge added: "I still think these fines are just a cash-cow for the council, these fines exist to make them some extra money."

A council spokesman previously said: "There has not been a change of policy and as a contractor Mr Aldridge should be aware of the regulations...

"We know residents of Waltham Forest don’t want adverts plastered up all round the borough and we have to be fair in applying the law equally to all parties guilty of this practice."

But the letter from a council officer cancelling the fine said: “I'm prepared to accept that you were unaware that displaying the sign was an offence.”