The Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, has denounced what he called a “coordinated, cruel and almost evil smear campaign” he claims has been run against him by people questioning his connection to the Hillsborough football tragedy.
Nuttall, who became leader last year, refused to answer questions from reporters asking him to prove he had been at Hillsborough as he took to the stage at Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on Friday.
During a 16-minute speech at the Macron stadium, Nuttall said he had endured a “tough week”, having been forced to admit that claims on his website that he had lost “close friends” at the 1989 football disaster were not true.
He said: “Many people will notice that I’ve had a bit of a difficult week. This is two-fold, actually. Firstly I take the blame for the fact that I failed to check what had been put up on my website. That is my fault and I apologise. But I do not apologise for what is a coordinated, cruel and almost evil smear campaign that has been directed at me.
“It is based in lies from sources who have not been named. It has been a tough week for me but I will not allow it to break me and I will not allow them to break Ukip.”
The 40-year-old Liverpudlian, who is trying to unseat Labour in the Stoke Central byelection, received a warm welcome from 300-400 delegates. “I was also asked by two journalists yesterday if I still had the support of my party,” he said, to cries of “yes!”, extended applause and a standing…