The SKWAWKBOX has spoken today to the police press liaison for Operation Resolve (OR) about their curious description yesterday of UKIP leader Paul Nuttall’s claim to have spent ‘over 3 hours’ making a statement on his alleged experience of the Hillsborough tragedy.
The press release and the conversation raise serious questions about what Mr Nuttall actually did and said during his visit to OR on Monday. Here is the press release in full:
Operation Resolve can confirm that yesterday we spoke to Mr Nuttall and have taken a witness statement from him. Our role is to investigate the causes of the Hillsborough disaster and to establish whether any individual or organisation is criminally culpable and, in that context, Mr Nuttall met criteria for taking a statement. It would be inappropriate for us to comment any further.
The release gives no detail about the length, content or level of detail of the statement – but it is startlingly vague.
The statement could, for example – without giving away any confidential information – have confirmed that Nuttall’s statement was consistent with those of other witnesses who are known to have genuinely been present. It could have stated that he was able to provide useful information. It could have thanked him for his time, given that three hours is a long time for a politician fighting a by-election.
None of those things were even hinted at. Instead it comes across more like the tone of a statement you might hear after police have interviewed a suspect they had to release but don’t want to exonerate in case they decide to bring him back in.
Of course, one has to be careful arguing from absence, but the studied ‘nothingness’ of the police statement does stand out. So the SKWAWKBOX asked Greater Manchester Police (GMP) press officer acting for Operation Resolve:
- whether the ‘met the criteria‘ description would be the standard generic description to a press enquiry for someone’s statement (In other words, if they had issued a release about, say, the statement given by a proven Hillsborough survivor, would the same wording have been used as a matter of course?)
- whether Mr Nuttall spent ‘over 3 hours’ giving his statement as he has claimed and, if not, approximately what time he did spend
The OR press officer declined to answer either question:
we have nothing further to add at this stage.
If the answer to either question had been ‘yes‘, the press officer could easily have confirmed the simple facts without disclosing anything that would have breached confidentiality or exposed GMP to any risk of legal action by Mr Nuttall, since to do so would have corroborated Nuttall’s claims and vindicated him.
Instead, this blog received a cagey, extremely careful response that would have been unnecessary if positive answers could truthfully have been given.
Rather, the extreme care and caution of the response may suggest that Nuttall attended, went through the motions for the sake of being able to say he had made a statement, then gave vague information to stay clear of any challengeable incongruities.
Is this proof positive that Nuttall’s ‘statement’ was nothing but a PR exercise? No. But it does mean that any interested observer of these events should be very cautious about drawing the conclusion, from the mere fact of Nuttall’s visit and the subsequent, studiedly non-committal police press release, that it in any way removes or lessens the doubts about Paul Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims.