LONDON — UKIP leader Paul Nuttall claimed on Friday that the press coverage of his false Hillsborough claims was part of a “coordinated, cruel and almost evil smear campaign” against him.
Speaking to UKIP members at the party’s spring conference in Bolton, Nuttall said he was sorry for failing to proof-read a blog post on his website that falsely claimed that he lost personal friends in the Hillsborough disaster.
However, he then lashed out at press coverage of the story which he suggested were based on unreliable sources and designed to “break” him ahead of the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election next week.
The Liverpool-born UKIP leader said:
“I’ve had a bit of a difficult week. This is two fold. I take blame for the fact I failed to check what was put on my website in my name. That was my fault. I apologise.
“But I do not apologise for what is a coordinated, cruel and almost evil smear campaign that has been directed towards me. It is based on lies by sources that have not been named. It has been a tough week for me but I will not allow them to break me and I will not allow them to break UKIP.”
Pressed by ITV whether he was in the Hillsborough football stadium when the tragedy unfolded in 1989, he said: “I’ve said all I have to say. I was at Hillsborough.”
Nuttall had initially been favourite to win the Stoke by-election and take a seat that has been controlled by Labour since the 1950s. However, revelations regarding the false claims on his blog post have damaged his chances, according to bookmakers, with Labour’s Gareth Snell now odds-on to win on Thursday, February 23.
His website was temporarily shut down earlier this week after news broke of the false claim. His press officer Lynda Roughley, a long-standing court reporter, claimed responsibility for the post and offered her resignation, which Nuttall later turned down.
In his speech on Friday afternoon, Nuttall reaffirmed his pledge to replace Labour as the patriotic voice of working-class Brits and reinstated a host of policy pledges, including slashing foreign aid, reducing immigration, and building council houses to tackle the nationwide housing crisis.
Earlier in the day, his predecessor Nigel Farage said the result of the Stoke by-election would be “fundamental” to the party’s future and urged UKIP members to do all they can to help Nuttall dethrone Labour in the Staffordshire seat.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.