- By Kit Sproson: ITV News
Labour have been accused of a campaign of intimidation in Stoke after members of the public received text messages warning them they could go to hell.
Several Stoke-on-Trent residents received messages urging them not to vote for "Anti Islamic" UKIP in the upcoming by-election.
In a string of anonymous messages over the past week, recipients were asked whether they would be able to "answer for" failing to elect Labour candidate Gaeth Snell "in the Grave and on the Final Day."
The by-election was triggered last month when former Labour MP Tristram Hunt resigned his seat to take up a position at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Now the Liberal Democrats have taken the matter to police and called on Labour to end the "scandal."
Labour deny they knew about the messages, adding that they did not condone the content.
In two letters seen by ITV News, the Lib Dems told Labour of their concern the messages were exerting “undue spiritual influence” on the election - scheduled for next week.
In a further statement, the Lib Dems accused Labour of "stirring up" community tensions, and called on Mr Snell to apologise to Lib Dem candidate Dr Zulfiqar Ali.
In one of the text messages, seen by ITV News, Stoke residents were urged to help stop "Anti Muslim, Anti Islamic" UKIP - whose leader Paul Nuttall is standing for election.
One of the messages stated that recipients "Must vote due to necessity / Majboori."
Advocating Labour's Mr Snell, the message concludes:"Will you be able to answer for this in the Grave and on the Final Day??
"I helped the Enemies of Islam because..."
In a letter sent to both Labour and the police on Wednesday, the Lib Dems said they had been made aware of several text messages distributed in large numbers "in support of your candidate and your campaign."
Liberal Democrat Election Agent Ian Horner wrote that the messages were "clearly election material in support of your candidate Gareth Snell."
He said the messages could be perceived to have "undue spiritual influence" on the election.
Mr Horner added: "I am sure that you are aware that such text messages under the ICO [Information Commissioner's Office] guidance should only be sent where the individual has consented to contact of that sort from the organisation for those purposes.
"Therefore, we have serious concerns about the origin of access to these phone numbers and whether the necessary permissions and opt out procedures have been followed."
In a statement on Thursday, the Lib Dems called on Labour to stop the "campaign of intimidation".
When contacted by ITV News, Labour said they had not been aware of the text messages.
A Labour campaign spokesperson said: “We were not aware of these text messages and we don’t condone the content.
"The campaign did not sanction the sending of these messages.”
Staffordshire Police have been contacted for comment.
Candidates in Stoke-on-Trent by-election:
- Mohammad Akram, independent
- Zulfiqar Ali, Liberal Democrats
- Jack Brereton, Conservative
- The Incredible Flying Brick, Monster Raving Loony
- Adam Colclough, Green
- Godfrey Davies, Christian Peoples
- Barbara Fielding, independent
- David Furness, BNP
- Paul Nuttall, UKIP
- Gareth Snell, Labour