REVENUE and Customs are carrying out an “urgent” inquiry after a parcel full of private companies’ tax returns was delivered to a former mayor of Christchurch.

Michael Hodges’ wife signed for the package when it arrived by courier but he was shocked to find it contained the sensitive details of 42 businesses.

The 73-year-old local historian was expecting a parcel of antique weapons from Sotheby’s and the package carried a sticker bearing his name and address so he opened it.

Mr Hodges said the firms were all small and medium sized companies based around Surrey, Kent and Essex, and the documents were apparently destined for a storage centre.

The material includes annual accounts, tax returns, and accountants’ letters, and appear to have been dealt with by Croydon tax office.

He phoned HMRC to explain but became so frustrated at an apparent lack of interest and being kept on hold that he contacted the Daily Echo.

Mr Hodges, who was a fraud investigator for HMRC himself in the 1960s, said: “In those days you wouldn’t dream of letting something like this happen.

“I rang one of the accountants and he was concerned because some of this is pretty sensitive information.

“The revenue only became interested when I said I was calling the Echo.”

The companies affected include the Surrey-based business SI Haywood and Plumbing.

The firm’s boss, Stuart Haywood, told the Daily Echo: “It’s annoying and worrying.”

Andy Sadler, director of East Sussex based Fluent VOIP said: “ It’s just lucky that they got sent to somebody who cared.”

Lisa Billard of HM Revenue & Customs said: “We take customer security very seriously and no data has been lost in this incident.

"Our parcel was correctly addressed, but it would appear that a label from another package (not an HMRC package) had become attached to it within the postal system meaning that the courier company delivered it to the wrong address.

"HMRC have collected the parcel and can confirm its contents are intact. We have raised the matter with the delivery company.”