Sky News anchor Eamonn Holmes apologises but says he didn't compare bus attack with Hillsborough
Eamonn Holmes is unlikely to be disciplined by his employers at Sky News despite a nationwide furore after he appeared to compare the attack on the Manchester United bus to the Hillsborough disaster.
Former Northern Ireland Office minister Maria Eagle was among those leading the torrent of outrage after the Belfast-born TV presenter told viewers of his morning news show that the damaging of the United team bus by West Ham fans on Tuesday night was "going back to the '70s and to the '80s... the type of thing you were seeing that was bad about Hillsborough, for instance."
His remarks on Sunrise came just weeks after a jury ruled that Liverpool fans had played no part in causing the 1989 disaster at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium, in which 96 supporters were crushed to death at the Leppings Lane end during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Twitter users, including the daughter of one Hillsborough victim, soon expressed their outrage, suggesting the father-of-four had linked the fans' behaviour with the disaster.
Holmes - who hit back saying he was a football fan and a huge supporter of the Hillsborough families - apologised for his remarks, while also accusing some "snipers" on social media of "stirring up trouble".
But Ms Eagle was unimpressed by the apology and offered to meet up with the 56-year-old - a diehard fan of Liverpool's arch-rivals United - to explain that it was South Yorkshire Police, and not drunken football supporters, who were to blame for the UK's worst sports-related tragedy. The Merseyside Labour MP and shadow sports secretary said: "I'm happy to talk to Eamonn and take him through what happened at Hillsborough. I spend a lot of my time counteracting the myths put out by South Yorkshire Police to evade their failures. I am amazed that somebody who ought to be aware of the details of current news should be so ignorant about Hillsborough."
Sky's willingness to let Holmes conduct his own online defence is understood by media analysts to be a clear indication that the broadcaster will not face any internal action from his employers.
The former UTV news anchorman responded to fury on social media in a series of tweets composed over the course of 20 minutes, insisting no offence was intended and what he said was taken incorrectly.
"The Hillsborough families have suffered enough without distasteful sniping like this," Holmes wrote.
"For the record, there is no comparison between events last night and Hillsborough.
"On the programme I was trying to talk about images we never ever want to see again.
"If anyone concluded anything different, my humblest and most honest apologies. I am a huge supporter of the Hillsborough struggle for justice.
"Last night's events do not remotely register in comparison.
"I am an honest and decent football supporter and man and would never seek to create such an offence. Those who are trying to do so are very wrong.
"Obviously there is no comparison between Hillsborough and the scenes at West Ham last night... I apologise unreservedly if anyone thought I was making that connection."
Holmes, who is married to his This Morning co-host Ruth Langsford, recently sparked a heated debate on social media when he suggested that the late pop star Prince's flamboyant dress sense made him "more of a girls' artist".
A tweet the Northern Irish star posted about the importance of Easter Sunday also provoked some mocking and acerbic responses online.