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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 19:08 GMT
Murder e-mail no laughing matter
Spoof e-mail claimed a woman had been murdered
The hoax message circulated worldwide
A hoax e-mail that claimed a law firm employee had been murdered has left lawyers red-faced.

The spoof internal message about a secretary at the London firm Herbert Smith's Hong Kong office named the woman's replacements in an alarmingly callous manner.

No-one was more surprised than the victim of the spoof e-mail Natalie Francisco, a night secretary, who was alive and well.

No-one likes to read about their own murder

Secretary Natalie Francisco

The message, apparently signed by a personnel executive, was forwarded to law firms and contacts worldwide.

The professional journal Legal Week was bombarded with copies.

Ms Francisco told the Daily Mail: "No-one likes to read about their own murder.

'Deeply upset'

"I was deeply upset by what happened and still can't believe this message was sent."

This is something we take very seriously and it has reinforced our need to review our e-mail policy

Herbert Smith spokesman

One response to the e-mail stated: "No-one is irreplaceable."

A spokesman for the law firm told BBC News Online that an internal inquiry had been carried out but there would be no suspensions or dismissals.

He said: "This was an unfortunate hoax. This is something we take very seriously and it has reinforced our need to review our e-mail policy.

"We have reiterated to staff the need to think and be responsible."

A trainee solicitor in Hong Kong is accused of being the author of the e-mail and a trainee in London is alleged to have helped forward it outside the firm.

Both are accused of bringing the firm's good name into disrepute.

It is being reported that up to three other trainees helped with the hoax but the firm would not confirm how many staff were involved.

Herbert Smith was founded in 1882 and is one of the UK's top firms in corporate finance and commercial concerns.

This is the latest in a number of examples of e-mails landing employees in hot water.

Smutty e-mail

In December five employees at a different London law firm who forwarded a revealing e-mail were disciplined.

Norton Rose offices
In December staff at Norton Rose were involved in an e-mail row
The five at the firm Norton Rose forwarded copies of a smutty e-mail sent by Claire Swire to her boyfriend, Bradley Chait.

Within hours it had spread from Norton Rose to other prestigious London law firms before making its way across the world as far as New Zealand.

Firms such as mobile phone giant Orange have previously sacked people for misusing internet access at work.

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