Bot out, Ukip tells Putin, as pro-Russia tweeters attack Paul Nuttall

Updated: 

BRITAIN-EU/UKIP

Ukip has told Vladimir Putin to keep out of the Stoke by-election after typically pro-Russian Twitter accounts turned on party leader Paul Nuttall.

The social media profiles have generally posted positive messages about the Kremlin's bloody intervention in Syria while praising the Russian president, who has been accused of interfering in the US election.

But in recent days they have begun praising Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and tarnishing Mr Nuttall as he campaigns to become MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central.

Alex King, a researcher who tracks Russian social media propaganda, noticed that the network of accounts use stock images as profile pictures and tend to post in a co-ordinated pattern.

They also post repetitive messages and use lots of hashtags in a bid to come to the attention of a wide audience in a tactic often used by automated accounts, or "bots".

A Ukip spokesman told the Daily Telegraph: "I don't think people take a blind bit of notice.

"I don't think the good people of Stoke are now avidly watching Russian automated Twitter bots. Bot out Putin."

The accounts have highlighted Mr Nuttall's recent controversy surrounding the Hillsborough disaster and have accused him of wanting to privatise the NHS.

Mr Nuttall has faced calls to resign as an MEP after it emerged claims that he lost close personal friends at Hillsborough, where 96 Liverpool fans died, were false.

A Ukip press officer has taken the blame for the remarks carried on Mr Nuttall's website for six years.

Mr Nuttall has also insisted he stands for an NHS free at the point of use after opponents highlighted that he backed its privatisation in several previous statements.

It is expected that in the early hours of Friday the results of the by-election will be announced and Mr Nuttall will find out whether he has beaten Labour's Gareth Snell, who is trying to defend the seat after the resignation of Tristram Hunt.