‘Revealing the facts on Hillsborough is hardly a matter of national security, it is a matter of natural justice’, read the 2011 statement on the website of Paul Nuttall, UKIP leader, candidate in this Thursday’s Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, and semi-professional Scouser. ‘Without [the facts] being made public’, Nuttall continued, ‘we will never get to the bottom of that appalling tragedy when 96 Liverpool fans, including close personal friends of mine, lost their lives’.
We now know, of course, that ‘the facts’ of Nuttall’s own Hillsborough experience were not quite as factual as he suggested. He did not lose ‘close personal friends’, as he or, as he claims, his press officer originally asserted; he merely ‘knew’ some of those who died. Even his accompanying claim that he was at Hillsborough that horrible day is now being questioned. He and his father say he was; old ‘friends’ and a school teacher say he wasn’t.
Either way – and let’s be honest, we’ll never know for certain that he wasn’t at Hillsborough – Nuttall has been savaged. Savaged by opposing politicians; savaged by the hack-pack; and, most painful and humiliating of all, savaged by those who really did lose loved ones at Hillsborough.
‘I can’t understand how anybody could be that cruel and callous’, said Sue Roberts, secretary of the Hillsborough Family Support Group. Kenny Derbyshire, chairman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, agreed: ‘It’s a disgrace.’ As the Guardian’s Labour cheerleader, Owen Jones, glossed with barely suppressed glee: ‘UKIP’s attempt to exploit the suffering of Hillsborough with total lies for political gain is absolutely disgusting.’
It’s difficult to argue with that. What Nuttall did, with or without the help of his seemingly serially hapless press officer, is wrong. He tried to say that the suffering of the bereaved was his suffering, that the struggle for justice for the 96 was his own personal struggle. But they were never his to claim. His personal suffering was a fabrication, an affectation, a performance.