UK Politics

Nuttall admits he did not lose 'close friends' at Hillsborough

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPaul Nuttall was shown the comments on his website, which he said were not accurate and not published by him

UKIP leader Paul Nuttall has said he is "very sorry" after admitting claims that he had lost close friends in the Hillsborough tragedy were false.

While he said he knew people who died in the 1989 disaster, he said he was "appalled" the impression had been given by statements on his website that he was close to any of the 96 victims

He said he did not check press releases posted by an aide in 2011 and 2012.

Relatives of Hillsborough victims accused the MEP of "insensitivity".

Hillsborough Family Support Group chairwoman Margaret Aspinall told LBC it was "an insult" to people who did lose somebody on that day.

Mr Nuttall, who is contesting the Stoke Central by-election, has hit back at "cruel and nasty" reports questioning whether he was even at the stadium on the day.

The politician, who was 12 at the time, has long said he attended the match with his father and two uncles.

But a recent article in the Guardian quoted a number of people - including an unnamed former classmate and two Labour politicians - questioning why he had not spoken about his experience.

'Taken aback'

In an interview with Liverpool's Radio City station on Tuesday, Mr Nuttall was asked about two press releases posted on his website.

In the first from August 2011, the Bootle-born politician urged the government to release files on Hillsborough.

He was quoted as saying: "Without them being made public we will never get to the bottom of that appalling tragedy when 96 Liverpool fans including close personal friends of mine lost their lives."

In a second release published six months later, he was quoted as saying: "I lost close friends at the match and understand as well as anyone how deep the scars of that tragedy go."

Pressed on these words during the interview, Mr Nuttall conceded they were inaccurate.

"I haven't lost anyone who was a close personal friend," he said. "It was people I knew through football and things like that."

The comments were "wrong" and had not "come from him", he added.

In the statement issued a few hours later, he said that while he took responsibility for everything published in his name, he was "genuinely taken aback when this claim was brought to my attention and am both appalled and very sorry that an impression was given that was not accurate".

Barry Downside - whose son Christopher died in the tragedy - said the UKIP leader should have "known better".

"It's insensitive. We are still awaiting the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service as to whether charges will be brought and we don't need this kind of thing."

Image copyright Radio City
Image caption Paul Nuttall was 12 at the time of the Hillsborough disaster

The Guardian has reported that two people, a childhood friend and a former teacher, could not recall Mr Nuttall ever mentioning he had been at the stadium disaster.

In response, the MEP said he was "hurt, angry and disgusted" that doubts were being raised, and issued a statement which he said he hoped would "clarify his involvement".

"As a 12-year-old boy, I travelled to Sheffield that day, as did so many others, to enjoy watching the team that I loved," he said.

"From the upper tier of the Leppings Lane End, I watched the events of that day unfold with horror... Like everybody connected to the Hillsborough disaster, memories of 15th April 1989 bring me nothing but pain and upset."

Mr Nuttall said he had provided two written statements to the Guardian testifying to his presence and could "provide more" but accused the paper of "twisting" the story.

Image caption The claim was made on the MEP's website in 2011

On Monday, Mr Nuttall's Labour opponent in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election apologised for posting a series of abusive tweets about women.

In 2010, Gareth Snell described panellists on ITV's Loose Women as "squabbling sour-faced ladies".

He also made remarks about Janet Street-Porter and a woman on BBC's The Apprentice. In a statement, Mr Snell said he regretted sending the tweets.

More on this story