15/08/2017 10:49 BST | Updated 15/08/2017 12:13 BST

National Lottery Apologises After Represent Twitter Campaign Horribly Backfires

'The amount of abuse coming through is disgusting.'

National Lottery/Twitter
The National Lottery has apologised after a Twitter campaign it launched to thank the public for supporting British athletes was hijacked by trolls; the sign above features hammer thrower Sophie Hitchon that makes light of the disappearance of Madeleine Mccann

The National Lottery has said it is “hugely sorry” after an attempt to thank the British public for supporting UK athletes at the World Championships backfired horribly after being hijacked by trolls. 

It asked Twitter users to retweet its #Represent post celebrating the teams success over the weekend which would then generate a thank you tweet featuring an athlete holding up a card featuring their name.

The scheme, which appeared to be automated, led to dozens of people changing their names to repugnant figures or using offensive phrases in a PR disaster reminiscent of the Walkers Crisps campaign fronted by Gary Lineker.

National Lottery/Twitter
The National Lottery has apologised over the incident saying its campaign had been 'maliciously targeted' with 'offensive and abhorrent content'

In May, the brand invited the public to send in selfies to be held up in a tweet by the footballer turned presenter, only for trolls to send in photos of notorious criminals including Harold Shipman, Jimmy Saville and Fred West.

The National Lottery was bombarded with complaints about the failed thank you initiative and at 1.43am Tuesday tweeted that it was aware some people are “maliciously targeting” its campaign and were “hugely sorry for any offence caused by this malicious act”. 

Some of the hijacked signs made light of the disappearance of Madeleine Mccann, the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and six-year-old cancer sufferer Bradley Lowery. Other users replaced their names with criminals including Josef Fritzl or called themselves ‘white supremacist’. 

A person tweeting under the account Spalding Hoops wrote: “You need to close down that account pronto - the amount of abuse coming through is disgusting.”

Another user made note of the fact that Walkers “already had a similar PR nightmare earlier this year” while Chris Williams wrote: “Companies don’t learn, someone naive enough to sign this off as a good idea.”

Lottery chiefs were alerted to the incident late on Monday and as of Tuesday the offensive tweets had been deleted. However, dozens of users had already taken screen shots of the images and are continuing to circulate them.

Camelot, which runs the lottery told HuffPost UK in a statement on Tuesday:“We are aware that some people were maliciously targeting our British Athletics Twitter campaign overnight with offensive and abhorrent content.

“We are continuing to deal with this and are hugely sorry for any offence caused to our players, the athletes concerned and British Athletics by this deliberate act.”

National Lottery/Twitter
A card featuring sprinter Dina Asher-Smith featured Josef Fritzl's name

Other incidents highlighting the perils of using easily manipulatable signs, include one involving former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair last year found himself the subject of much ridicule after tweeting a picture of him holding a sign reading ‘I voted remain’.

The picture was later edited to show a variety of comical and cultural references along with a few not so flattering declarations. 

Nigel Farage also fell into the card trap and was forced to delete a tweet in July after posting a picture of him holding up a piece of paper he claimed contained a direct quote from Article 50. It didn’t, as Twitter users later pointed out to the former Ukip leader.