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Thursday, November 4, 1999 Published at 18:48 GMT

UK Politics

Archer website swamped by mischief-makers

The website on the issues facing London may now be edited

It was a perfectly laudable idea - a website promoting serious debate on the issues facing London in the run-up to next year's mayoral elections.

But the Greater London Forum website, which is supported by Lord Archer, has been hijacked by mischief-makers who have posted dozens of insulting and defamatory e-mails on its message board

Now Lord Archer, who is standing as the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, is considering whether to scrap the forum altogether.

[ image: Lord Archer welcomes visitors to the site]
Lord Archer welcomes visitors to the site
The Internet forum contains a disclaimer: "It is the intention of the Greater London Forum to focus debate on the issues facing London, not the personalies.

"Please, in your messages, do not praise or attack individuals. The Forum reserves the right to remove messages which break this principle."

Numerous impostors

But it has become anything but an area for serious debate about the future of London.

Recent contributors include Dolly the sheep, Bill and Ben, Lord Lucan and Daisy the cow, while others have posed as Frank Dobson or even Lord Archer himself.

Stephan Shakespeare, chief of staff for Lord Archer's campaign and director of the Greater London Forum, told BBC News Online a decision had been taken when the site was set up to leave the discussion forum open to all, rather than edit it.

But he said the way it had developed was a "shame" and said he would review whether it should be edited or removed altogether.

Mr Shakespeare said: "We wanted to create a forum for debate about London and we succeeded in doing that, especially in the early days."

He said the site was not Lord Archer's personal campaign site, but added: "We do not pretend that it is not something that Jeffrey is involved in because he is."

Asked if any of the contributors claiming to be Lord Archer were indeed the novelist, Mr Shakespeare said: "Not a single one."

Practical jokers

Visitors to the site are greeted by Lord Archer's photograph and links to some of his plans for London.

But the discussion forum appears to have been hijacked by a mixture of practical jokers and opponents of Lord Archer.

One of the most recent messages, for instance, purports to be from Frank Dobson, one of Labour's potential candidates for London mayor.

The message itself, though, is clearly not from the former health secretary.

It reads: "Ha! ha! ha! I've already got one of the unions voting for me! So what have you got to say to that! I'm going to win! I'm going to win!!!!"

Other messages have been posted from people claiming to be Jeffrey Archer himself and Margaret Thatcher.

'Is there no real debate?'

Indeed, such is the proliferation of messages attempting - and usually failing - to be amusing that the serious ones are hard to find.

One contributor understandably complains: "Is there no real debate on matters of consequence to be discussed?"

Among the glib comments, there are numerous attacks on various candidates for next May's election.

Lord Archer's official campaign website does not involve an interactive element, like those of Labour hopefuls Ken Livingstone and Glenda Jackson, and the Liberal Democrat candidate Susan Kramer.

Mr Dobson's site, meanwhile, is not yet fully up and running.

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