UKIP leader Paul Nuttall has apologised after admitting claims on his website that he lost “close friends” in the Hillsborough disaster were false.
The revelation was made during an interview with Radio City Talk show host, Dave Easton, on Tuesday, where Bootle-born Nuttall faced probing questions that he struggled to answer.
In the interview, Mr Nuttall was questioned by the presenter, who himself had been at Hillsborough, about two articles published on his personal website.
In the first, from August 2011, the 40-year-old politician encouraged the government to release files on the Hillsborough tragedy.
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 in 2012, 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.”
When shown the evidence of the claims, Nuttall argued he was not responsible for the statements, admitting: “I haven’t lost a close, personal friend. I’ve lost someone who I know. I’m sorry about that, but that is something… I haven’t put that out. That is wrong.”
YouTube: Radio City
UKIP party press officer, Lynda Roughley, later admitted she had written the website articles in question, and issued a statement announcing her offer to resign after the incident.
She said: “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.”
On Wednesday, a UKIP spokesman said that Ms Roughley’s resignation had been rejected, adding: “She has worked very long and hard for many, many years of loyal and effective service. We all make mistakes.”
MEP Nuttall, who is representing UKIP in the forthcoming Stoke Central by-election, stands by his claim that he was at the 1989 tragedy, along with his father and two uncles.
In another statement, released a few hours after the Radio City interview, Nuttall said: “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.
“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.”
Families of the Hillsborough victims have called the claims about losing close friends an “insult”.
Mr Nuttall was unavailable for comment today.