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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 12:17 GMT
Hoaxers swamp Number 10
Hoaxers have managed to overwhelm the Downing Street switchboard by tricking thousands of people into calling Number 10 asking to speak to "Tony".

Four out of five calls to Downing Street last week turned out to be from people duped by the practical joke - a repeat of a ploy whose last target was Buckingham Palace.

Most people were as mortified as the next person because they were being hoaxed as well

Downing Street spokeswoman
Text messages were apparently sent to mobile phones nationwide saying: "Hi mate, phone me ASAP, bad signal in this pub. If I don't answer, ask for Tony who runs the place."

The problem proved so bad, a new number is reported to have been set up so Number 10 officials can dial in without facing delays.

Switchboard swamped

Now callers to the main number are told: "This is Downing Street switchboard. You are receiving this recorded message because of hoax messages in circulation asking the recipient to call this number urgently.

"If you do not have a reason to call Downing Street, please hang up now."

Steve Penk
Penk pretended to be Hague in a previous spoof
A spokeswoman at Number 10 said the hoax message had gone out to thousands of people.

That had swamped the switchboard, which was only run by a small number of people.

"Most people were as mortified as the next person because they were being hoaxed as well - they were embarrassed and apologetic," said the spokeswoman.

She refused to confirm whether or not a new number had been set up for officials because of the chaos caused by the hoax.

Hoax history

It is not the first time Downing Street has fallen foul of hoaxers, despite its reputation as a premier operation able to track down key numbers very quickly.

Radio DJ Steve Penk famously called Tony Blair pretending to be then Conservative leader William Hague.

The prime minister spotted the spoof when he was called "Tony" and was offered a free Cher exercise video.

Buckingham Palace has also been targeted by a text message hoax recently where people were urged to call the number and ask for "Liz".

See also:

21 Jan 98 | UK
Surprise call for PM
25 Jan 00 | UK
Hoaxing: A national pastime
04 Sep 01 | UK
Hoax callers put online
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