Paul Nuttall, the Ukip leader under pressure over claims that he was not at the Hillsborough disaster, has accused Labour of coordinating a smear campaign against him.
Nuttall faced questions about Hillsborough during an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, following claims that he lied about being at the stadium on the day of the 1989 disaster and knowing one of the 96 victims. Asked whether he would name a victim he says he knew, the Ukip leader declined.
He also said: “There was an orchestrated smear campaign, which I knew was coming from December, which was suggesting that I was not actually at Hillsborough. It was done by a political party.”
Asked if he was accusing Labour, he replied “I am, actually, OK?” but offered no further evidence that the party had been behind questions about his recollections.
The claim regarding “close personal friends” was made on Nuttall’s website in 2011, in a post under his name featuring a quote attributed to him.
A post about attempts to block the publication of files concerning the Hillsborough inquiry read: “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.”
However, in an interview with Radio City News last month, the Ukip leader denied making the claim and blamed a press officer for the mistake.
“I haven’t lost a close, personal friend,” Nuttall said. “I’ve lost someone who I know.”
Asked by Marr, he refused to name that person. “No [I won’t answer] because as a family we had all lost people who we knew,” he said.
Questions about Nuttall’s claims were also raised by the Hillsborough Families Support Group, who asked why he had never offered any support. Others who knew him at the time say they have no recollection of him saying he was present during the disaster.
On Sunday, Nuttall said people needed to get “perspective” on the Hillsborough issue. He said: “It’s not as if I have lied about weapons of mass destruction. It’s not as if I have taken us into an illegal war. It’s not as if I’ve been caught in a paedophile ring.”
His appearance on the Marr show came amid turmoil for Ukip after its former leader, Nigel Farage, called for the party’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, to be ousted while Ukip donor Arron Banks has threatened to pull funding for the party unless he is made chair.
Asked to comment on Banks’s remarks, Nuttall appeared to play down his influence over the party.
“Arron has never been Ukip’s major donor, but since I got back from holiday, I have got a commitment from a consortium of Ukip’s donors that Ukip is financially secure going forward.”
He also accused Carswell of being preoccupied with sabotaging Farage’s knighthood, an allegation strongly denied by the MP. Carswell told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “It is untrue.”
Nuttall, who said he was determined to carry on as Ukip leader, suggested Carswell’s fate would be decided by the party’s national executive committee. “We have had it in writing now from Douglas Carswell that he lobbied for Nigel Farage to get a knighthood,” he said. “He has put it in writing, let’s see what happens. It’ll go to the national executive from here.”