Ukip leader Paul Nuttall has admitted claims he lost “close personal friends” at the Hillsborough disaster are untrue, after being confronted by a radio host.
On 17 August 2011, Nuttall had released a statement on his website in support of further investigation into the tragedy, in which he stated: “Close personal friends of mine lost their lives.”
Months later, in January 2012, he declared: “I lost close personal friends at that match and understand as well as anyone how deep the scars of that tragedy go.”
However, when pressed on these “close personal friends” in an interview on Liverpool’s CityTalk radio station, Nuttall could not name them.
Here are the claims from UKIP leader Paul Nuttall’s website that he lost “close, personal friends” at Hillsborough. Dated 2011 & 2012. pic.twitter.com/mweAYm2Pg6
— Radio City Talk (@RadioCityTalk) February 14, 2017
Instead, when asked, a clearly uncomfortable Nuttall said: “That’s not from me I’m sorry. I haven’t lost anyone who is a close personal friend.” Instead, he said, “people I knew from the football” had died. The post has since been deleted.
The incident is embarrassing for the Ukip leader, who is standing in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. But this isn’t the only part of his Hillsborough account that has come under scrutiny.
Merseyside-born Nuttal has repeatedly claimed to have been among those who attended the 1989 FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield, where 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death in the overcrowded Leppings Lane end of the ground as a result of police negligence. Nuttall would have been just 12 at the time.
Last week the Guardian reported that a number of people – including a childhood friend of Nuttall and a former teacher at his school – had questioned his claim to have been present, with Hillsborough campaigners also asking why he had never used his national profile to help their fight to expose the police cover-up that led to Liverpool fans being blamed for the deaths.
The Ukip leader has described the article as a smear campaign, and suggested only “scum” would say his claim was untrue. Ukip has denied the report and released two statements attesting to his presence on the day. During the same radio interview, Nuttall said he had witnesses “who will stand up in court and back me 100 per cent”.
Meanwhile, Nuttall has been busy distancing himself from his internet past. Last year he denied having been responsible for a post on his LinkedIn profile that inaccurately claimed he had received a PhD in History from Liverpool Hope University in 2004, blaming an “over-enthusiastic researcher” for the page’s contents. Soon after he said a press officer was responsible for falsely claiming he had played professional football for Merseyside club Tranmere Rovers.
He has also backtracked from blog posts which praised the privatisation of the National Health Service.
A number of Labour MPs have already condemned Nuttall’s comments, which could yet derail his bid to overturn the opposition’s 5,179 majority in next Thursday’s by-election. Chi Onwurah, the shadow business minister, tweeted: “I didn’t think my opinion of Ukip’s leadership could get any lower. And then I saw this.”
The Middlesborough South MP Tom Blenkinsop added: “Leader of Ukip is prepared to lie about this, for a very prolonged period of time…what else would he lie to the British public about?” Hull East’s Karl Turner added the claim was “shocking”.