A TV news team yesterday found themselves under police investigation following a probe into postal vote fraud in Birmingham and Sandwell.

Sandwell Borough Council has referred the Five News team to the police after they claimed four fraudulent postal votes in the Warley constituency.

Five News, which also secured up to 30 votes in Edgbaston by targeting voters registered at derelict or empty homes, claimed it is trying to expose the ease with which postal votes can be stolen.

But Sandwell's acting returning officer Nigel Summers said all the voters at the four Sandwell addresses were properly on the electoral roll.

He added: "As a result of this the voters cited will lose their right to vote in person on May 5."

He added that the matter was being referred to the police.

Five News claimed its reporters had acted within the law to expose the potential for ballot fraud.

Five head of news Michael Dixon said they targeted empty or derelict homes with registered voters as they would be unlikely to notice their vote was missing.

He said: "We downloaded and completed internet application forms. No form of ID was submitted nor did Five News get permission from the voters."

The investigation has sparked renewed calls for an overhaul of the postal voting system from Edgbaston Conservative candidate Deirdre Alden who said: "We have called for the extension of the tough Northern Ireland system of individual electoral registration. The Labour Government blocked such moves, and new draft laws are gathering dust in Whitehall."

John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Yardley whose court action to suspend postal voting on May 5 was defeated, said: "We know how easy it is to fraud the system. The only person who doesn't want to know is Tony Blair."

Speaking last week Mr Blair insisted the system did not need an overhaul.

He said: "Electoral fraud has happened from time to time, you find the people responsible and you convict them but we should not get it out of context."

Birmingham was targeted by the TV channel following last month's High Court case in which six Labour councillors were sacked for postal vote fraud at last year's local elections.

Judge Richard Mawrey said the system was open to widespread abuse and the fraud would disgrace a 'banana republic'.

And it comes after a record six million people, including 56,000 in Birmingham, applied for postal votes for the May 5 election.