The Lib Dems have been severely criticised over their fake local newspaper stunt.

It comes just days after the editor of the Basingstoke Gazette and Andover Advertiser, Katie French, hit out at the political party for producing an election leaflet posing as a local newspaper under the banner of the “mid-Hampshire Gazette”.

The leaflet looks like the front page of a newspaper claiming, “Paula Ferguson leads the way” and that voters are switching to the Lib Dems.

Following reaction on social media, Ms French has today (Tuesday) written an open letter to party leader Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats calling for an apology.

"I am concerned that such adverts are dangerous to democracy", the letter says.

"Local newspapers have a trusted reputation in this country for providing balanced, fair and even coverage.

"By presenting an advert in the format of a trusted, independent paper, this erodes that trust.

"Your party has knowingly exploited this format by the use of mastheads that resemble that of a geographically-based newspaper for political gain.

"We ask that the Liberal Democrats issue a formal apology to members of the local press in Hampshire and other parts of the country where these false newspapers have been created."

Newsquest's editorial director, Toby Granville has written an official letter of complaint to the party.

The matter is being referred to the Electoral Commission.

In a statement to the Press Gazette, the Lib Dems, who incorrectly referred to French as a male, said: "This is the Basingstoke editor complaining about something that was not distributed anywhere near his circulation area.

"As far as we know he has not contacted us directly and we will be happy to talk with him about this if he does.

"In the meantime, we remain committed to communicating with people, and tabloid newspapers has been one way of doing this employed by all political parties for decades."

The election material has been criticised by the Society of Editors and News Media Association.

A spokesperson for NMA said: "Political parties should not be seeking to copy the look and feel of independent local newspapers with their campaigning material.

"By scrutinising candidates on behalf of the public in communities across the UK, local news brands play a vital role in upholding democracy.

"Dressing up party political material as independent journalism undermines this and damages trust in both news media and politicians."

And Ian Murray, executive director of Society of Editors added: "It is ironic how it is often politicians who complain about fake news but then set out to at least blur the lines for readers – and in this case voters – by packaging their partial messages to ape independent newspapers.

“If political parties were genuine in their desire, often expressed, to both remove the effects of fake news and disinformation as well as support existing regional and local media they would take steps to ensure their political freesheets look markedly different to real newspapers.”