Two senior Ukip officials quit over party's 'insensitivity' about Hillsborough
Two senior Ukip officials in Liverpool have quit over the party's "crass insensitivity" over the Hillsborough tragedy.
Stuart Monkcom, the chairman of leader Paul Nuttall's own branch in Liverpool, and Adam Heatherington, chairman of the Merseyside regional branch, said comments made by party figures had been "upsetting and intolerable" for the victims of the families.
The announcement is another blow to Mr Nuttall just days before the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election where he is hoping to oust Labour.
He has already had to apologise for a statement on his website falsely claiming he lost "close friends" in the disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans died.
The party's millionaire backer Arron Banks caused further anger when he said he was "sick to death" of hearing about Hillsborough and accused critics of Mr Nuttall of "milking" the disaster for political purposes.
In a statement, Mr Monkcom said: "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.
"We identify most strongly with all the good people of Liverpool and most importantly the families of the Hillsborough victims, who have fought so long and hard for justice in their condemnation of the way Ukip has handled these issues and have resigned our positions and membership of Ukip forthwith."
During an emotional address to Ukip's spring conference in Bolton on Friday, Mr Nuttall claimed he had been the victim of a "co-ordinated, cruel and almost evil smear campaign" over Hillsborough.
He has insisted that a press officer was responsible for the inaccurate claim that he had lost friends in the disaster.
He has also strongly denied a report in The Guardian which cast doubt on his claim to have been at the stadium as a 12-year-old fan when the disaster occurred.
Mr Nuttall had been tipped to take Stoke-on-Trent Central in Thursday's by-election triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Tristram Hunt.
Stoke voted strongly for Brexit in last year's referendum and it is unclear whether the continuing controversy over Hillsborough will damage his chances.
He has also faced claims that he was not actually living at the address in Stoke which he gave when he registered as a candidate in breach of election rules.
Mr Heatherington said he "completely" endorsed Mr Nuttall as party leader and claimed most of the anger in Merseyside was directed at Mr Banks over the "total disregard" he had shown for the victims' families.
He told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme: "It was the Arron Banks remarks that I cannot put up with."
Mr Heatherington said the party leader should have taken down the comments about losing close friends at Hillsborough from his website sooner.
"That's where he was unprofessional, but he's apologised, it's been taken down.
"But he should come to Liverpool and apologise as well. I don't know if he is going to do that."