HACKERS launched a barrage of 'disgraceful' abuse after infiltrating a virtual meeting of Winsford Town Council.

Councillors were shocked when their Zoom call was suddenly interrupted last night on Facebook by crude graffiti, a groaning noise and very loud music.

The voice of a young American boy could be heard as councillors and officers tried to work out what was happening. Graffiti described as 'disgraceful' was daubed across the council agenda.

It was the first time the council meeting had been streamed live on Facebook.

The attack happened just as councillors were about to discuss plans to set next year's budget.

Winsford mayor Cllr Don Beckett, who was chairing the full council meeting, asked the intruders to leave and the music suddenly stopped.

Everyone present, including members of the public, were invited to identify themselves as it was decided to close access to the Zoom call, although the meeting continued to be shared on Facebook.

Resident Charlie Parkinson, who was watching the meeting on Zoom from home, said: "I was shocked. I didn't know was happening.The words were disgraceful.

"How it happened I don't know as I'm not technically minded but hopefully we will learn a lesson from this."

Council clerk Mark Bailey said: "It was an unfortunate incident which sadly is very common when it comes to using this sort of technology for meetings. We will learn from this and seek to ensure it will not happen again.

"I’m glad to say that the meeting proceeded as planned following this incident and we were able to complete all business on the agenda."

This meeting is not the only Zoom call to have been taken over by hackers in a global trend known as Zoom bombing.

Deputy mayor Cllr Nathan Pardoe said: "The incident which occurred at last night's virtual Winsford Town Council meeting was not a hacking attempt but instead a mix of mischievous and offensive behaviour from automated accounts and people across the globe seeking to frustrate the meeting.

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Winsford Guardian:

Deputy mayor Cllr Nathan Pardoe thanked the Mayor and clerk for reacting swiftly to the incident

"This is all too common with virtual meetings. Many organisations have encountered this and Winsford Town Council is no exception. I must make clear that Winsford residents who attended were not responsible or involved in this behaviour.

"Similar to in-person meetings, poor behaviour of others is difficult to control but the council will configure virtual meetings differently in the future to reduce the chance of repeat incidents. I'd like to thank the mayor and clerk for reacting swiftly and enabling the meeting to continue successfully without further interruption."

Winsford Town Council was one of the first local authorities to hold meetings using the video conferencing tool Zoom in April, during the first lockdown.