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Ukip leader misses Stoke by-election event after Hillsborough claims row

Press Association logoPress Association 16/02/2017 By PA Reporters

PA-30101374 Cropped: (Joe Giddens/PA) © Provided by The Press Association (Joe Giddens/PA) Ukip leader Paul Nuttall has pulled out of a by-election hustings after facing calls to resign as an MEP over inaccurate claims that he lost close friends in the Hillsborough disaster.

Organisers of the campaign event ahead of next week’s Stoke Central by-election say they were told Mr Nuttall would not be attending about an hour before it was scheduled to begin.

Mr Nuttall’s principal political adviser and fellow Ukip MEP, Patrick O’Flynn, stepped in to speak on behalf of his party leader at the hustings organised by Stoke-on-Trent’s City Centre Partnership business group.

A spokesman for the event, held at a hotel in Hanley, said he had been informed that “essential party meetings” linked to a Ukip conference on Friday meant Mr Nuttall was not able to appear.

Mr Nuttall’s non-attendance at the hustings follows a decision to take his official website off-line for “scheduled maintenance”.

Screenshot of Paul Nuttall's website © Provided by The Press Association Screenshot of Paul Nuttall's website

The Ukip leader has apologised over claims – carried on the website for six years – that he lost close personal friends at Hillsborough, which he admitted was wrong during a live radio interview.

Just a week before he contests the by-election in the Stoke Central seat held by Labour since 1950, Mr Nuttall was branded a “coward” after a Ukip press officer said she was to blame for the posts.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson called on the Ukip leader to “explain himself” to the people of the city.

He told the Guardian: “It’s not the press officer who should be offering their resignation, it should be Paul Nuttall offering his resignation as a candidate, never mind for what party.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron branded Mr Nuttall a “disgrace”, telling the Daily Mirror: “Paul Nuttall is a coward. You cannot believe a word that comes out of his mouth.

“And every time he gets caught making things up, he just blames it on the office junior. The man is a disgrace.”

POLITICS Byelection © Provided by The Press Association POLITICS Byelection

Mr Nuttall apologised on Tuesday for the claim – contained in at least two press releases on his website – after being challenged during an interview with Radio City Talk in Liverpool.

He told presenter Dave Easton: “I haven’t lost a close personal friend, I’ve lost someone who I know. I haven’t put that out, that is wrong.”

On Tuesday Ukip press officer Lynda Roughley said she was “entirely responsible” for the website post and offered her resignation.

A Ukip spokesman said on Wednesday that the resignation had been rejected, adding: “Obviously Paul is grateful for her offer, but what sort of chap would he be to say her career is dead for what seems to be a minor error six years ago?”

In a statement Mr Nuttall made clear that he stands by his account of being present at the disaster as a 12-year-old fan, after doubts were raised by the Guardian.

“From the upper tier of the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough Stadium, I watched the events of that day unfold with horror,” he said.

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