Set an age limit for porn, says newsagent Anti-porn newsagentfights for age limit

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The Independent Online
HAMDY Shahein has not finished yet. The East End newsagent who dared to take on the might of the giant wholesaler W H Smith in a fight against top- shelf pornography says he will take his campaign to Parliament.

Mr Shahein claims the support of 500 other newsagents - and says his next battle will be to get the law changed. He wants the Government to put an age limit on "adult" magazines, so that only over-18s can buy them.

"I want it to be very strict," says the Egyptian trader from Hackney. "Just like it's illegal to sell cigarettes to under-16s. Thousands and thousands of people are behind me."

Having sold his business, the 43-year-old intends to devote all his time to his cause, which will be taken up in tandem with the Campaign Against Pornography. He will work from his old shop, which still trades as Hamdy's News.

Judging by the amount of television, radio and press attention he has received, Mr Shahein can expect a media profile approaching that of his fellow moral crusader Mary Whitehouse.

Mr Shahein first cleared the magazines off the top shelf of his shop in Stoke Newington High Street six years ago, and asked W H Smith to stop sending him what he considered to be offensive material.

The company said it would, but continued to include the titles in its monthly supply of magazines. For three years Mr Shahein returned them to the local depot, by post or hand, and repeated his request - but then he gave up, and over the past three years has stockpiled unwanted magazines worth pounds 1,500.

W H Smith kept telling him he was the victim of a computer error. Last week it announced it had written to 20,000 independent newsagents offering them the chance to refuse the magazines. But Mr Shahein says the letter - widely portrayed as a climbdown - was actually an advertisement.

Attached to it was a list of more than 80 titles available for supply, with names such as Lonely Wives, Naughty Neighbours, Big Girls and Shaven Babes Electric Blue.

"The adult market is a very valuable one to the newstrade, a market which has increased by over 10 per cent in the last year," said the letter, which was sent from Smith's regional distribution depots. It went on: "Our list of approved titles does not include any of the stronger import titles supplied by various distributors, which carry a much greater risk of prosecution. All are published by experienced and responsible publishers."

It urged newsagents who wanted to extend their range of titles to contact the company.

"I think it's absolutely disgusting," says Mr Shahein, who has organised a network of porn-free newsagents and convenience stores, working closely with the Campaign Against Pornography.

A spokeswoman for W H Smith said the letter was an attempt to clarify the situation for newsagents. "Our job is to maximise the copies sold on behalf of our publishers and to help newspapers run profitable businesses. The onus is on us to promote titles. We have to spell out what is profitable for a newsagent or not."

A computer error was the reason that some retailers who had asked to stop receiving the magazines had continued to be sent them, she said. A more accurate database was to be compiled. All the titles Smith provided were legal under the Obscene Publications Act and the Indecent Displays Act.

To Mr Shahein, the titles available in newsagents have become more explicit in his 17 years in the business. "It used to be called soft porn, but it has become really hard now. They are not as hard as the illegal ones, but if you look at their contents and the advertisements for mail- order, everything is available."

The father of three boys, Mr Shahein says he was sickened by the effects the magazines he used to stock had on children. Although a Muslim, he is anxious to avoid that being seen as his main motivation. "If you say it's religion, this whole campaign will be turned upside down. It might be a part of it, the way I was brought up - there's nothing wrong with that whatsoever, it's what I believe - but there is also common sense involved." He is convinced the magazines are harmful and degrading. "I have sisters and I have a mother like anybody else. It's not nice."

So far his campaign has cost only time and money, he says. The fight for a legal age limit will be a dirty one, he says - and he claims to have been followed and threatened already, but can't say by whom. "God knows. I don't really want to discuss it."

Mr Shahein is reluctant to name other members of his network. Some are scared, he says, not of W H Smith but of those involved in the porn industry. "It's a very big business, and they are nasty people."

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