TV show 'was used to send messages to jailed Mafiosi'

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Mafia bosses have been sending coded messages to prison inmates via an Italian football show, according to a senior former prosecutor.

The popular Quelli del Calcio - That's What Football is About - show is an afternoon-long extravaganza that takes in Sunday matches and invites viewers to send messages via SMS text.

Along the bottom of a screen runs a ticker tape with the messages and Mafia investigator Vincenzo Macri has told a crime commission he believes it was used to send information to caged Godfathers.

He said: "Naturally sending text messages to Quelli che il Calcio is only one of the instruments used to get information to top security Mafia inmates.

"The messages often seem ordinary but in reality they hide important service notes to the bosses. Indeed, one of the coded messages used read simply: 'Everything's OK, Paolo'."

Key to the revelation was also an intercepted letter sent to a jailed mafioso which told him to watch the football show to "learn about something which was dear to his heart".

TV chiefs at Italian state channel RAI said they were "shocked" at the revelation and insisted they had no idea it was taking place, adding that all messages had been scrutinised to make sure they were broadcastable.

The jailed mobsters in question are some of more than 600 in Italy receiving the so-called "41 bis ultra" restrictive treatment in jail, which includes a limit on personal visitors and less free time.

They are usually kept in single-person cells in maximum-security jails, although they are allowed to mix with five other inmates at a time, they are not permitted to buy anything or to receive parcels.