BOLTON Council has been making changes to an online encyclopaedia - placing the town firmly in Lancashire.

An online tool which claims to reveal the identity of organisations that edit Wikipedia pages shows that a council computer has been used to alter geographical information about the town.

A sentence which said Bolton was in Greater Manchester has been altered to Lancashire.

And while the move will be widely welcomed by many in the town - a recent poll by The Bolton News showed 87 per cent in favour of putting the borough back in Lancashire - it is sure to reignite the debate.

In June, Bolton MPs David Crausby and Dr Brian Iddon supported a Parliamentary Bill campaigning for traditional town and county boundaries to be reinstated on maps and road signs.

They said Bolton should be placed back in Lancashire - 33 years after becoming a part of the newly-created county of Greater Manchester.

The edits to the encyclopaedia can be seen via Wikipedia Scanner, a tool developed by US researchers which trawls a list of 5.3m edits and matches them to the net address of the editor.

Most of Bolton Council's edits detected by the scanner correct spelling mistakes or factual inaccuracies in profiles but the subjects of the entries changed range from The Police drummer Stuart Copeland, cannabis and capital punishment to unclean animals, McFly singer Danny Jones and the handlebar moustache.

Under the entry for Metropolitan Borough of Bolton, the sentence which read "The Metropolitan borough of Bolton is a metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England" has been altered to "The Metropolitan borough of Bolton is a metropolitan borough in Lancashire, England".

The scanner cannot detect the actual computer from which the edits were made, however, so identifying the staff member who made the change is virtually impossible.

The IP address is registered to Bolton Borough Council, The Wellsprings, Howell Croft South, Bolton, however. Neither Lancashire or Greater Manchester is used in the registered address.

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopaedia that can be created and edited by anyone and so far it has been shown that the CIA allegedly used the agency's computers to make edits to the page of Iran's president.

It also purportedly shows that the Vatican has edited entries about Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

The new tool was built by Virgil Griffith of the California Institute of Technology.

It exploits the open nature of Wikipedia, which already collects the net address or username of editors and tracks all changes to a page. The information can be accessed in the "history" tab at the top of a Wikipedia page.

By merging this information with a database of IP address owners, Wikipedia Scanner is able to put a name to the organisation and firms from which edits are made.

A spokesman for Wikipedia said the tool helped prevent conflicts of interest.

"We really value transparency and the scanner really takes this to another level," it said.

"Wikipedia Scanner may prevent an organisation or individuals from editing articles that they're really not supposed to."

A council spokesman said: "It's two years since the sentence was changed on Wikipedia and the council has been re-organised with departments and teams moved around across the Civic Centre, including the Wellsprings building. It would be near impossible to find out who made the particular change which this software claims to be able to track.

"The Council has an internet and email policy which is available to staff on the intranet and has been widely promoted through internal briefings. That policy is clear that the council provides employees with access to internet and email facilities to promote work-related functions.

"Bolton became part of the new metropolitan county of Greater Manchester in 1974, but remained part of the historical county of Lancashire.

"Bolton is effectively a unitary authority, the highest tier of local government administration and works closely with the other authorities in the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, while still remaining part of the historical county."

Chris Dawson, chairman of the Friends of Real Lancashire, said: "Bolton is traditionally in Lancashire and people should be made aware of this."


How Greater Manchester came into existence

Greater Manchester came into existence as a metropolitan county in 1974 with Bolton being one of the 10 boroughs making up the new area.

It followed the passing of the Local Government Act of 1972 and, with 2.55 million people, Greater Manchester became the second most populated urban area after London, something supporters of the county says attracts fresh investment to the area.

Although the Greater Manchester County Council was abolished in 1986, the county continues to exist in law and as an administrative frame of reference.

Greater Manchester is made up of Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan.

Unlike most other modern counties, including Merseyside and Tyne and Wear, Greater Manchester was never adopted as an official Postal county by Royal Mail for postal addresses and delivery.