Huge blow for Paul Nuttall as two Ukip chairmen in Liverpool resign over Hillsborough row
Paul Nuttall has suffered a major blow just days before a key by-election, with two Ukip chairmen from his own local branch quitting the party over the Hillsborough furore.
Stuart Monkcom and Adam Hetherington, who chair Ukip Liverpool and Merseyside respectively, accused the Ukip leader of "crass insensitivity" and not being "fit to lead".
The row flared up after Mr Nuttall admitted that claims on his website about losing "close personal friends" during the disaster were untrue.
A Ukip press officer, Lynda Roughly, took the blame for the mistakes and offered to resign from her job.
This morning's resignations from two members of his own party undermine Mr Nuttall's claims that the controversy has been inflated as part of a "smear campaign" from his political opponents.
'UPSETTING AND INTOLERABLE'
In a joint resignation statement Mr Monkcom condemned the party's handling of the issue.
"Although the timing of our resignations is unfortunate in light of upcoming elections, both Adam and I wish to make it clear, where the painful subject of Hillsborough is concerned, with closure not yet in sight, this unprofessional approach and crass insensitivity from high profile people closely within and without Ukip is upsetting and intolerable," he said.
"We identify most strongly with all the good people of Liverpool and most importantly the families of the Hillsborough victims who have fought so hard and long for justice, in their condemnation of the way Ukip has handled these issues."
But he also made broader criticisms of Mr Nuttall's leadership, saying:
"I felt supporting a libertarian party was the right thing to do in order to affect change in the political system in this country. Unfortunately that dream has been shattered and the potential of Ukip has been squandered by people who have demonstrated they are not fit to lead."
The BBC reports that Mr Hetherington had tried to contact Mr Nuttall about the Hillsborough incident but had not received a reply.
The resignations come at the worst possible time for the embattled leader, who is facing a tough fight with Labour in the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election.
Voters in the Staffordshire constituency go to the polls this Thursday in what former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said would be a "fundamental" test for his party.