Not since Blackadder's manservant Baldrick secured a 16,472-vote victory in the rotten borough of Dunny-on-the-Wold has public attention been so firmly focused on electoral skulduggery.

While the nation's passion for politics appears to be on the wane, there has been no lack of interest in the voterigging scandal unmasked in Birmingham over the past few weeks.

Indeed as the Election Commissioner, Richard Mawrey QC, gave his ruling on the Bordesley Green and Aston petition hearings, those listening intently to his words appeared to be enjoying themselves as much as any viewer of Baldrick's unlikely triumph for the Adder Party in the Suffolk Fens.

The petitioners from the People's Justice Party and the Liberal Democrats were barely able to disguise their glee as the six Labour councillors were kicked out of office.

The audience stifled guffaws when the judge questioned whether those responsible for framing the postal voting guidelines could have made the fraud any easier to pull off.

The judge observed: "Postal ballots are sent out by ordinary mail in clearly identifiable envelopes. Short of writing 'STEAL ME' on the envelopes, it is hard to see what more could be done to ensure their coming into the wrong hands."

The seeds of Birmingham's difficulties were sewn five years ago when the Government decided that anyone wishing to vote by post should be allowed to do so.

Regulations changed overnight, sweeping away stringent controls where applicants for postal votes had to produce a doctor's note to show why they could not get to a polling station in person.

On the second day of the trial, Mr Mawrey described just how easy it would be for a group of determined fraudsters to stockpile votes.

"I can lawfully obtain the voters' list, I could apply for postal votes for 1,000 people on the list. The returning officer's staff have no means of knowing whether the person who purports to have sent in the application for the postal vote is in fact the elector concerned," the judge said.

In order to allay suspicion, the organisers of the plot would be clever enough not to ask for 1,000 votes to be sent to the same address. They would instead use several "safe houses", Mr Mawrey added.

He went on: "I go round to those addresses and have 1,000 packages in my hands. I and my team of equally evil henchmen sit down and, on a house-by-house basis, we produce a forged signature that looks like the name of the householder.

"On the face of it, it's a perfectly good and valid vote. Those 1,000 votes will go into the count. With a fair wind, a fraud of that nature I would get away with, as the returning officer and the council staff have neither the duty nor the resources to carry out the detailed work to discover whether that's going on."

The judge's colourful scenario was borne out in evidence to the court depicting how thousands of votes in Aston and Bordesley Green were improperly obtained, filled in in the same ink and handwriting, and witness signatures forged.

Postal ballots properly cast were intercepted en-route to the elections office, the voters' original intentions were removed and fresh votes for the Labour candidates inserted instead.

Those perpetrating the fraud even took the precaution of checking first with the elections office as to whether there would be any problem if "mistakes" were changed with correcting fluid and envelopes containing ballot papers resealed. They were told there would, indeed, be no problem.

The ease with which postal votes can be fraudulently obtained and the almost total lack of checks to prevent abuse placed the returning officer, Lin Homer, and her elections officer, John Owen, in a difficult position.

Their plight was made worse by the council's inability to cope with a rise in the number of postal votes issued in the 2004 elections - up from 24,000 the previous year to 70,000. There were 7,000 postal votes in Bordesley Green alone - five times as many as votes cast at polling stations.