The UK government is taking unprecedented steps to combat an email that has been widely distributed online.

The "Holocaust Ban" email hoax claims that the Holocaust is no longer going to be studied in UK schools because of fears of offending Muslims. Ed Balls, the UK's secretary of state for children, schools and families, yesterday issued a statement to media and embassies worldwide denouncing the email as a hoax.

Balls said he wanted to "put an end once and for all to the myth" spread by the email. He said teaching the Holocaust remains "non-negotiable" in UK schools.

Part of the chain letter email claims: "This week [the] UK removed The Holocaust from its school curriculum because it 'offended' the Moslem population which claims it never occurred. This is a frightening portent of the fear that is gripping the world and how easily each country is giving into it."

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos, warned that the message is "not just propagating via traditional e-mail but also via social networking websites like Facebook, where people forward nonsense messages to all of their friends without necessarily engaging their brains."

He said hoaxes wasted valuable bandwidth, impacted staff productivity and could even place email addresses "into the wrong hands."

Hoax emails had been a problem for years, said Cluley, "but this must be the first time that a government has taken such firm action to debunk one."