Newsagent fights to keep his top-shelf clean

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The Independent Online

A London newsagent who for 17 years has fought to keep his shop pornography-free has won an apology and offer of compensation from WH Smith News, which he says wrongly sent him hundreds of top-shelf magazines.

Hamdy Shahein, 54, an Egyptian-born Muslim, claimed that the "bombardment" of "offensive" material amounted to a breach of his human rights and began legal action against the wholesale distributor. Over five years, the newsagent collected around 1,800 magazines and newspapers sent by the company that he considered to be pornographic.

After meetings with Mr Shahein and his MP, Diane Abbott, the companyoffered to settle the case with a payment of £5,500. The sum is to cover the cost of material he has been charged for but did not want and includes an additional amount as a "gesture of goodwill" as well as £1,500 for his legal fees.

But Mr Shahein, a winner of many awards whose anti-porn campaign is supported by womens' groups, MPs and other newsagents, said that he would reject the offer, which he described as "derisory", and pursue the human rights case. He said: "This is not really about money but about a principle. I still want them to guarantee that they won't keep sending me any more material. They can't simply make me go away me with this derisory sum. For the sake of what I have been fighting for over the last 17 years I have to make my point."

Mr Shahein began his campaign in 1989 after embarrassing incidents with customers led him to believe that newsagents should not have to sell pornography. Mr Shahein challenged the company over its policy of distributing pornography under a system known as "box-out", under which a pre-packed selection of titles was packed off to retailers. n 1996, partly as a result of the campaign, W H Smith News changed the system to one where retailers could opt out of selling porn. For five years all was quiet and Mr Shahein received no more unwanted titles. But then in 2001 he once again began receiving unsolicited magazines. "This time I decided to take legal action," he said. He accused W H Smith News of breaching his human rights, specifically articles 8 and 9, to a private life and to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

But W H Smith News, which distributes 3,000 titles to 22,000 retailers, says that Mr Shahein has not been deliberately targeted or bombarded with offensive material. Nevertheless, a spokesman conceded that "mistakes" had been made in Mr Shahein's case and that was why the company had offered him compensation.

W H Smith News also met Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, to discuss the general issue of supply and display of adult titles. Mr Shahein hoped that meeting would prompt both a guarantee that he would not be sent unsolicited material and an improved compensation offer.

But the company's letter concluded: "Having reconsidered the case in the light of the constructive meeting with the Rt Hon Diane Abbott MP, we stand by our offer of compensation."

Last month, Mr Shahein was named as the best neighbourhood newsagent in the Living London Awards by readers of The Independent and listeners of the radio station LBC 97.3.