UK Independence Party leader Paul Nuttall, is under mounting pressure after a comment on his website claiming he had lost close friends at the Hillsborough disaster was revealed to be false.
Nuttall, a North West England MEP who is also next week contesting a by-election in Stoke, nearly 70 kilometres south east of Liverpool, was forced to admit the claim was false in an interview with Liverpool’s Radio City News.
The admission will pile fresh scrutiny on Nuttall’s campaign for the seat in the February 23 by-election, triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Tristram Hunt.
In a posting on his website, dated Jan. 19, 2012, which championed news of a progressing new inquest regarding the Hillsborough incident, Nuttall wrote that he had “lost close personal friends at that match and understand[s] as well as anyone how deep the scars of that tragedy go.”
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
But when showed the posting, Nuttall was forced to admit the statement was false, clarifying he hadn’t lost a “personal friend” but rather “someone who I know.”
Nuttall said he had not personally published that statement.
UKIP leader Paul Nuttall admits that claims on his website that he lost a “close personal friend” at Hillsborough are false pic.twitter.com/bnNKm29IsU— Radio City Talk (@RadioCityTalk) February 14, 2017
His latest revelation comes days after doubts were raised about whether Nuttall had indeed been present at the 1989 football disaster.
On April 15, 1989, overcrowding of Liverpool fans led to 96 people being crushed to death.
The incident is the UK’s single largest football disaster and it has, over the decades, evolved into an explosive political issue in the country as police have been accused of deflecting blame and attempting to cover up the incident.
“I want to make this perfectly clear,” Nuttall said to Radio City News presenter Dave Easson. “I was there on that day, I’ve got witnesses, people who will stand up in court and back me 100 percent.”
But the Hillsborough Families Support Group, a support group for the families of those who died that day, questioned why Nuttall never offered the group any help.
“I haven’t heard anything about him being at the match,” Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Families Support Group said to The Guardian newspaper. “Has he given a statement to the police, who have said they want to hear from everyone who was there? He can’t say he hasn’t heard that the police want to take statements from everyone who was in the Leppings Lane, as it’s been all over local and national media.”
People close to Nuttall, including previous political opponents, also told the Guardian newspaper Nuttall had never mentioned Hillsborough and a former teacher said Nuttall’s was not among a list of student names who had gone to the infamous match.
Rival Labour MPs have denounced Nuttall since his Tuesday admission and have questioned his credibility.
UKIP says Nuttall is the target of a political smear campaign, releasing a statement in his defence.
“Paul was indeed at Hillsborough,” the statement reads. “He attended the match with his father and other family members. For political opponents to suggest otherwise and for left-wing media organisations to promote such claims constitutes a new low for the Labour party and its associates.”
Hillsborough, however, is not the only scandal plaguing Nuttall’s campaign.
He is being investigated by police for election fraud for possibly providing a false address in his by-election nomination papers. If found guilty, he could face up to 51 weeks in prison. UKIP says all election rules were properly followed.
Nor is the Hillsborough scandal the only time Nuttall was forced to disavow a statement on his personal website.
In November he was forced to deny he played professional football for a local club, a claim published on his website, when he had in fact been a member of the youth team. Nuttall blamed the error on a UKIP press officer.
Nuttall’s LinkedIn social media networking site also erroneously said he had a PhD, when in fact, he never finished his doctoral studies.
Voters will take to the polls next week, Feb 23 in the upcoming by-election.
The Stoke vote is being seen by some Labour commentators as a major contest for Labour and UKIP. Both have the opportunity to further assert themselves in post-Brexit national politics and reaffirm their parties’ in-crisis identities.
It is in a region of the country that voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union but the seat is currently held by Labour who are under pressure to hold onto it.
It is a vote that political observers in the country will follow closely as it has become “a make-or-break” moment in British politics.