The subject of newsagents’ tote boxes has been flavour of the last fortnight on the helpline. This one, though, was different. Sam Parmar rang from his Londis store in West Molesey, Surrey. He says that, for years, he has been getting ‘rubbish’ delivered by Smiths News in their tote boxes because they haven’t cleared them out properly. Consequently, he has details of other retailers’ orders from all over the place.

He has fixed a notice in his own steel box saying that any fly tipping from totes would result in a charge of £25. The sign is taped in, waterproofed and, so far, ignored. He wants to contact someone at Smiths over the charge which he reckons now adds up to more than £700. (You have to admire his style.)

He says that every three or four months he gets a notice from Smiths saying please make sure your tote boxes are clean, but says that Smiths themselves are not clearing out the boxes when they get them back.

At the moment he has about 30 store details in his possession including Tesco’s in Ealing, Sainsbury’s in Hove, and another at Ascot. He says: “I could take down people’s businesses with it. I could order stuff in their name.”

Ironically, he has details of an order for WH Smiths which he was thinking of cancelling just to teach someone a lesson.

He also makes a good point about Data Protection rules. I suggested that he could contact the Information Commissioner’s office as they regulate the General Data Protection Regulations. I think they would be most interested and they have been known to issue huge fines for breaches.

I have referred Sam to Linda Windsor from the Press Distribution Forum, who will guide him through the official complaints process.

Then Mark Bristow rang from Wessex News in Yeovil, Somerset, with a handy tutorial in response to my story about Mahesh Patel being charged for phantom tote boxes. Mark says: “When Smiths News first introduced charging for totes I could see that could be a problem. They don’t tell you how many you receive.

“I keep a record of the serial number, so if they say box 123 wasn’t received, you have a record. Sometimes the two bar codes at the end of each box don’t match - they’re on sticky labels - and sometimes they are damaged.

“The idea that I would pass on is don’t send back an empty tote. Most of my returns could fit into one. Spread it out so it will be scanned and there will be a record of them going back and you can tell them exactly what was in it. They are supposed to scan them all, but if they are empty… I don’t know.”

It’s certainly something to think about.