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Ghost wars are threatening to break out on the streets of one of Britain's most haunted cities after a dramatic increase in the number of twilight tours of the Beyond.

Advertising boards have gone bump in the night and rival guides have taken to haranguing bemused spirit-hunters amid calls for a new licensing system to govern forays into York's Other Side.(York, in Northern England, is the site of a magnificent medieval cathedral and has many other ancient buildings.)

"It's getting beyond a joke,' " said Trevor Rooney, who has led ghost tours in the city for 13 years dressed as a Victorian undertaker and assisted by a mad monk. "There were only three of us a year ago. Now there are seven operators with 120 advertising boards in the center of York. It's difficult not to avoid other parties, and I have had my own ghost stories shamelessly pirated."

Rooney, whose former wife, Jayne, leads one of the new tours with her own mad monk, has joined two other longstanding ghostly operators to appeal for council intervention.

The alliance of Ghostly Tours of York, the Original Ghost Walk and the Haunted Walk argues that spirit-hunting tours should be licensed and the number of boards - padlocked to every other drainpipe this week - restricted.

The city's council has reacted cautiously, conscious that the tours - often attracting 60 or more eager spook-hunters each - are a big attraction.

John Liley, city center manager, said he had looked at the problem but was not yet convinced that action was necessary. "By and large, the operators are providing an honest service at good value. It's only when people start doing silly things with their rivals' boards and the like that we get worried."

Greg Preston, a professional entertainer who set up the Ghost Trail of York this year, said there were enough ghosts to satisfy free and fair competition.

"We would support a quality control scheme as long as it was fair, vigorous and even-handed," he said, "but at the end of the day, there are a lot of ghosts in York, and good-quality tours will survive."