Ukip leader Paul Nuttall today claimed Labour is behind an “orchestrated smear campaign” to portray him as lying about being present at the Hillsborough disaster.
The North West MEP, who failed to win the Stoke by-election last month, was forced to admit during the campaign that claims on his website he lost “close friends” at the tragedy were wrong.
Together with other incorrect claims – including that he played professional football for Tranmere Rovers when he was in fact only a youth player – the Hillsborough revelation led to Nuttall being dubbed the “purple Pinocchio” on social media.
But appearing on the BBC and Sky News today, Nuttall angrily hit back at suggestions he had not even been at the game in 1989 in which 96 Liverpool fans died.
Speaking to The Andrew Marr Show, he said: “There was an orchestrated campaign which I knew was coming which was done by a political party.”
When asked whether he was accusing Labour of the smears, he said: “Yes I am, actually. Yes I am.”
Nuttall went on: “They suggested I wasn’t actually at Hillsborough. I provided witness statements, I’ve given evidence to Operation Resolve and I’m prepared to stand in a court of law.”
In an interview on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show, Nuttall said suggestions he hadn’t been at Hillsborough were a “hit job” and repeated the line that it was an error by his press officer which had led to the “close friends” claim appearing on his website.
He added: “I failed to check something [on my website] but I want to put this in perspective. I didn’t lie about weapons of mass destruction, I didn’t send anyone into an illegal war, I didn’t say anything racist, I’ve never been caught in a paedophile gang or anything.
“The fact is I failed to check something which went up on my website in 2011 and I just think people need to take some perspective and what’s happened is this story has been manufactured to role on as it suits certain people with a political purpose.”
Since Nuttall’s defeat in Stoke Central, Ukip has descended into near civil war over suggestions the party’s only MP tried to block former leader Nigel Farage getting a knighthood.
Clacton MP Douglas Carswell denied the allegations, and insisted today on ITV’s Peston on Sunday he was only asked to lobby for Farage’s honour after the decision had already been taken.
Ukip donor Arron Banks – a strong supporter of Farage - is vowing to stand against Carswell in Clacton in the General Election.
Today, Carswell confirmed for the first time that he would be standing as a Ukip MP at the next election.
When asked by Peston if he planned to represent the party, Carswell replied: “Absolutely.”