UKIP leader admits website claim he lost close friends at Hillsborough disaster was false

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2017, 2:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2017, 9:31pm

The leader of Britain’s right-wing UK Independence Party, Paul Nuttall, has been forced to admit that claims on his website about losing close friends in the 1989 Hillborough stadium disaster were false.

In an interview with Liverpool’s Radio City News on Tuesday, it was put to him that in 2012 he said on his website that he had “lost close personal friends”. Nuttall denied making the claim.

When the presenter, Dave Easson, who was at Hillsborough in Sheffield on the day of the disaster, showed him the evidence that the claim had been made on his website, Nuttall replied: “I haven’t lost a close, personal friend. I’ve lost someone who I know.”

Nuttall then suggested that he was not responsible for the statement, saying: “I’m sorry about that, but that is something … I haven’t put that out. That is wrong.”

Ukip subsequently announced that a party press officer, Linda Roughley, had offered her resignation, and issued a statement in which she was quoted as saying: “I am entirely responsible for the website post regarding Paul’s comments about having ‘close friends’ who died at Hillsborough. Paul is a man of great integrity and would not say something he knew to be untrue. It’s me who has made this mistake, and one I feel absolutely terrible about.

“I am frankly mortified at the distress this issue has caused Paul and may have caused to anyone involved with the Hillsborough tragedy. I have today offered my resignation, I could not be more sorry.”

Nuttall’s admission came four days after Nuttall had denied lying about being at Hillsborough on the day of the 1989 disaster, in which 96 people died as a result of a crowd crush during a FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

On Monday, when asked about the claim that he had not been at Hillsborough, Nuttall said: “I feel bloody angry, angrier than I’ve ever been and I thought I had seen everything in politics.”

He said he believed he was a victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by the Labour party. “I know it’s a dirty game, but this is beyond scraping the barrel to be perfectly honest with you. It’s upset me personally, it’s upset my family.”

On Tuesday, Nuttall told the radio show he had been at Hillsborough and described claims to the contrary as cruel. “I was there on that day. I have witnesses, people who will stand up in court and back me up 100 per cent.”

The revelation that he had not lost close friends at Hillsborough brought an angry reaction from relatives of those who died. Margaret Aspinall, the chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose 18-year-old son James died in the disaster, described the admission as “appalling”.

Ben Howlett, the Tory MP for Bath, described the admission as “sickening”, while Karl Turner, Labour MP for Hull East, branded it “shocking”. Chi Onwurah, a shadow business minister, said: “I didn’t think my opinion of Ukip’s leadership could get any lower, then I saw this.”

Nuttall was 12 at the time of the disaster. One of his former teachers, a Roman Catholic priest, has told the Guardian that the school believed it had been aware of the identities of every boy who had been at Hillsborough in order to help them through a difficult period, and that Nuttall was not among them.

A fellow pupil at the school who says he has been a friend of Nuttall for decades said the Ukip leader had never mentioned being there. “I have been very good friends with Paul for over 25 years,” he said, adding that during that time they had “never spoken” about Hillsborough.