The embattled leader of Ukip told his party’s spring conference he faced “evil smears” following the controversy over his Hillsborough statements.
Paul Nuttall was forced to admit he did not lose close personal friends in the football stadium tragedy, despite old posts on his blog to the contrary. His account that he was there the day of the disaster has also been questioned by The Guardian.
The Ukip candidate in the upcoming Stoke by-election was nevertheless greeted like a hero as he asked for support from the stage at the Bolton Macron Stadium shortly before midday.
He spoke for 11 minutes before raising the issues which have dogged him.
“I’ve had a bit of a difficult week,” he said, to a murmur in the hall. “Firstly, I take the blame for the fact that I failed to check what was put up on my website in my name. That was my fault, and I apologise.”
But he went on to add: “I do not apologise for what is a co-ordinated cruel and almost evil smear campaign that has been directed towards me.
“It is based on lies from sources who have not been named. It has been a tough week for me, but I will not allow them to break me and I will not allow them to break Ukip.”
He said that he had been asked by journalists if he still had the support of the party, and appeared to be choked with emotion when impromptu applause, whistles and cheers lasting almost a whole minute seemingly gave him his answer.
“Thank you, I’m a bit overwhelmed,” he responded.
Earlier, former leader Nigel Farage had also referenced the issues facing Nuttall.
“Paul has had a very, very difficult week,” he laughed, adding: “By-elections are not much fun, they’re a rough old game.”