An elderly couple pictured on BNP election leaflets endorsing the party's anti-immigration views are actually Italian models, it can be disclosed.
Pamphlets being distributed by the far right party to 29 million homes ahead of next month's poll European and council polls feature testimonies from five "typical Britons", giving their reasons for voting BNP.
The endorsements from apparently respectable members of society – including a soldier, doctor, and young mother – reflect the party's attempt to appeal to mainstream voters. But far from depicting proud BNP supporters, the images are actually stock photos from online picture libraries that have been used by dozens of websites to promote everything from painkillers to caravans.
On the leaflet, the elderly couple are quoted complaining that hard-working Britons are being "pushed to the back of the queue by bogus asylum seekers". But last night Italian photographer Luca Di Filippo confirmed that the people in the photo were actually his parents, who had only ever visited this country as tourists and do not share the views of the BNP. The disclosure sits uncomfortably with the party's campaign slogan "British jobs for British workers".
Mr Di Filippo, who is now based in London, said he was astonished to see images of his mother and father being used to promote an extreme right wing party.
"I did not think they would be allowed to use a royalty-free image for political purposes. I'm really, really upset," he told The Daily Telegraph. "If the BNP had been open about what they were doing and asked me directly I would have said 'no thank you'."
The false testimonies were exposed with the help of a new site called The Straight Choice, which aims to compile all campaign leaflets produced in every constituency in the run up to the June 4 elections. Suspecting that the images on a BNP leaflet he scanned into the site were dubious, a blogger ran them through a "reverse image search engine" called TinEye, which traces previous appearances of pictures anywhere on the web.
At least three were for sale for a small fee on the iStockphoto website. The Canadian-based firm did not respond to enquiries about whether its customers were allowed to use images for political purposes. None of the people pictured, including an Irish Guardsman, would have given their explicit consent for their photos to be used to promote Nick Griffin's party, which is calling for the immediate end of all immigration to Britain.
Stephen Paulger, the 25-year-old computer programmer who with fellow blogger Tim Ireland uncovered the ruse, said that the misleading images caused the accompanying voter testimonies – which could be genuine – to lose all credibility.
"In politics everyone should always try to be as open as possible. I like websites like The Straight Choice because they force politicians to be more honest," he said. He wrote on his Newspeak blog: "The only conclusion I can make is that no real BNP voters were keen enough to appear on the leaflets."
Francis Irving, one of the team of volunteers who created The Straight Choice to "up the game" of the electorate and raise the level of political dialogue, said that he believed more stories would emerge as their library of election pamphlets grows.
"We hope to uncover a few political scandals and expose hypocrisy – like parties who produce a graph of past local election results but miss out the year they did badly. There's a whole bunch of interesting stories that will come out," he said. "First of all we want people in every constituency to scan in the leaflets they receive, to create a resource for other people to scrutinise and analyse.
"We are doing this to restore trust; it's positive. I personally think politics is really important and there are vital things going on in the world. We want to reduce the gameplaying of party politics and make politicians focus on things that affect people's lives."
The disclosures will embarrass the BNP, but could also have legal repercussions. European election law forbids candidates to pay canvassers, who are defined as anyone who "by word, message, writing or in any other manner, endeavours to persuade any person" to vote for a particular party.
The Electoral Commission, which oversees all elections held in Britain, said it was unclear whether a model who was indirectly paid to appear on a campaign pamphlet could be classified as a canvasser. It would be up to the police to investigate if they received complaints, a spokesman said.
A BNP spokesman said that the images were "clearly meant to be representative" and denied that the party had broken the law.
"All the major political parties use actors in their adverts," he said." We would love to use photos of real police officers and nurses who are BNP voters but they would have lost their jobs."
He insisted the party's employment policies were not undermined by using photos of foreigners: "How on earth are we supposed to vet all our models?"