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Roddick under Internet attack

Body Shop International has become the latest victim of Internet harassment. The company and Anita Roddick, its chief executive, have been subjected to a series of vitriolic attacks in articles written on the Internet.

The Internet is now becoming a serious problem for businesses because of difficulties in regulating and policing its content.

Last week Harrods began legal action to prevent the unauthorised use of its name on the Internet. Earlier this year BT encountered difficulties with a disgruntled customer who used the Internet to air his grievances.

The problem is even greater in the US, where it is commonplace for Internet users to launch attacks on corporations.

Leading the attack on Body Shop is Jon Entine, a freelance American journalist who has had a long-running feud with the environmentally friendly cosmetics retailer. He was the author two years ago of a controversial article questioning its green and ethical credentials. The article proved to be a damp squib but the frenzy whipped up ahead of publication led to a temporary 15 per cent fall in Body Shop's share price.

Mr Entine has continued his campaign against Body Shop electronically. In a series of missives to other Internet users he makes a series of attacks on the company and its chief executive.

"Roddick is a liar - she stole her company's name, products marketing philosophy, etc," Mr Entine wrote in May.

"Roddick is a liar and a thief. BSI has hidden its lies and hoplessly [sic] dyfunctional [sic] corporate character with thug-like threats to employees, franchisees, social researchers and reporters," he wrote in February.

"BSI screws many of its stakeholders particularly its customers," was his message in April.

In March Mr Entine also alleged incorrectly that the RSPCA had urged consumers not to buy Body Shop products.

Body Shop is now exploring ways in which it can address the problem.

"We are considering our options," a spokesman said. "But we will say we think it is terribly sad that the Internet, with its potential to encourage serious and informed debate, can be abused in this way."