Ed Miliband apologises for posing with The Sun after backlash of criticism from Labour figures

The Labour leader's picture sparked fury in Liverpool, where the paper has been subject to a boycott over its coverage of the Hillsborough disaster

Ed Miliband has apologised for any offence he may have caused when posing with a copy of The Sun, after angry Labour figures expressed criticism at the move.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the Labour leader were all photographed with a special edition of the newspaper on Thursday, which was being distributed free to mark the start of the England football team's World Cup campaign.

About 22 million free editions of the newspaper were delivered across the UK.

The photo sparked a backlash of criticism from Labour figures including Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram, while Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson accused Mr Miliband of failing to take account of continuing fury over the tabloid's coverage of the disaster, which claimed 96 lives.

Labour Cllr Peter Mitchell, who attended the 1989 Hillsborough game, also threatened to resign from the party.

Mr Anderson condemned Mr Miliband's "support for the paper", saying: "Such clear support for that publication at any time would be wrong but at such a sensitive time is deeply shocking.

"My city was offended and insulted by the lies and smears peddled by The Sun and their hindrance to our fight for justice is something that will never be forgotten.

"For the leader of the Labour Party to make such an offensive gesture insults not only me but every person in the city.”

Read more: Residents refuse to accept free ‘World Cup Pride’ edition of Sun

In a statement, a spokesman for the Labour leader said: "Ed Miliband was promoting England's bid to win the World Cup and is proud to do so.

"But he understands the anger that is felt towards the Sun over Hillsborough by many people in Merseyside and he is sorry to those who feel offended.”

Mr Rotheram, who raised concerns with Mr Miliband face-to-face after the picture emerged, posted on Twitter: "He never meant any offence, but in my opinion it shouldn't have happened in the first place."

A spokesperson for The Sun said: "The Sun wants to thank Ed Miliband for having his picture taken and cheering on England to #DoUsProud in Brazil.

"The free edition of the Sun is an unashamedly positive celebration of Englishness, and it should come as no surprise that politicians on all sides are happy to get behind our uplifting message."

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