LONDON — One of Paul Nuttall’s aides this week offered to resign after the UKIP leader admitted that claims that he had lost close friends in the Hillsborough disaster were completely false.
In a statement issued on Tuesday his press officer Linda Roughley said:
“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.”
So can this possibly be true? Can we really believe that Nuttall was totally oblivious to the repeated statements about Hillsborough issued under his own name by Roughley?
Let’s examine the evidence.
Here’s the first appearance of the “close personal friends” claim in a now-deleted post on Nuttall’s website in August 2011.
And here’s a second from January 2012.
Now it’s just about possible that these posts were made completely independently by Roughley and then sat entirely unread by Nuttall for five years. It may seem unlikely, but it’s possible.
However, Nuttall is also quoted making the exact same claim by the BBC. Nuttall told them in August 2011 that “close personal friends of mine lost their lives” in the tragedy.
Now just because the BBC quote Nuttall by name it does not necessarily mean that they spoke to him in person.
Statements are often issued in politicians’ names which are then quoted as if the person said them personally to the journalist.
But are we really expected to believe that Nuttall was quoted by Britain’s national broadcaster on the biggest news event of the day and he didn’t ever bother to read the article?
The question of Linda Roughley
The other thing we have to decide is whether it’s likely that Roughley would have repeatedly made such an egregious error.
Roughley is a long-standing court reporter.
Now, reporting on court proceedings requires a journalist to be rigorously accurate in quoting and reporting on complicated proceedings and testimony.
So it seems questionable, at best, that somebody with Roughley’s experience would repeatedly and falsely misquote her employer on a matter as important as the Hillsborough tragedy.
Nuttall’s non-existent PHD
The other question we have to decide is whether Nuttall is a credible source. After all, this is not the first time that he has been forced to withdraw false claims made under his own name.
Last year Nuttall was questioned about his online CV after it was revealed that he had falsely suggested that he had a PhD in history from Liverpool Hope University. After the university confirmed that he had no such qualification, Nuttall again denied all knowledge.
“No, I’ve never claimed I’ve got a PhD. It’s not on my website,” he told Andrew Marr.
“It’s on a LinkedIn page that wasn’t put up by us and we don’t know where it’s come from.”
However, he later conceded that it was his own LinkedIn but blamed the incident on an unnamed “over-enthusiastic researcher.”
Again a junior employee was thrown under the bus.
Nuttall’s habit of blaming others for words issued in his own name extends way back to his student days. According to the New Statesman Nuttall included references to books by Holocaust denier David Irving in an essay about the causes of the Holocaust. When this was pointed out, Nuttall blamed his girlfriend for mistakenly copying them from the internet. His teacher told the Statesman: “I didn’t want to think the worst of him. He had attended at least one left-wing meeting at the college and, perhaps naively, I thought his ideas were in flux and I was willing to accept his denial.”
Nuttall’s professional football career
Perhaps the most ludicrous example of Nuttall’s tendency to blame aides for false claims concerns his repeated claim to have been a professional football player. Here’s the claim on his website:
Tranmere Rovers said Nuttall had “definitely not” played for the club when asked by the Mail. When confronted about the claim last year Nuttall admitted that he had never been a professional footballer and again blamed it on a press officer.
“I have never claimed I was a professional player,” he told the Mail.
“It was one press release in 2010, put out by a press officer, who knows nothing about football.”
However, this as not the only time that Nuttall made this claim. In fact, the claim also appears at the very top of this old UKIP leaflet right next to a picture of the MEP:
Taken together, there is a clear pattern of behaviour here. False claims are made and when confronted about them Nuttall denies all knowledge, before blaming junior members of staff for the “mistake”.
There are two possible explanations for this. The first is that he is the victim of repeated mistakes by a series of completely incompetent, yet strangely imaginative employees. The second is that he is just making things up.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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