A FORMER MEP has quit the SNP in protest after Nicola Sturgeon "endorsed" The Scottish Sun newspaper days after the Hillsborough inquest verdicts.

Hugh Kerr, who was a Labour representative of the European Parliament before being expelled from the party in 1998 for his vocal opposition to Tony Blair, said the First Minister's decision to pose with the newspaper was "crassly insensitive".

Ms Sturgeon was pictured in The Sun on Saturday, smiling and holding up a front page Star Trek themed endorsement for the SNP for this week's Holyrood elections, which had been published the previous day.

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It came days after a jury found that the 96 football fans who died in the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy were unlawfully killed, vindicating a near three-decade campaign that had been mounted by the victims' families.

Many in Liverpool still boycott the newspaper due to a front page story its UK edition carried in the wake of the disaster, which wrongly claimed, under the headline 'The Truth', that some drunken fans had picked pockets of victims and urinated on police officers. The infamous headline did not appear in the Scottish edition.

While the editor at the time, Kelvin Mackenzie, has apologised for the story and claimed the incorrect information had been provided by a Tory MP and backed up by police, the paper caused further anger last week after it failed to carry the story of the inquest verdicts on its front page.

Mr Kerr, in a letter to Ms Sturgeon and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell seen by The Herald, said he regretted taking the decision to resign, claiming he had been warmly welcomed to the party in 2011, but felt he had been left with no option.

He said: "I'm afraid I can't be in a party where the leader effectively gives endorsement to the Sun by posing with the paper. The Sun is a vile, racist, reactionary, sexist and anti-trade union newspaper and is the flagship of the Murdoch empire in Scotland and the UK. I spent five years as an MEP ensuring that Murdoch could not do to European satellite TV what he has done in Britain with Sky TV. Also to give the Sun this photo endorsement in the week of the Hillsborough report is crassly insensitive to the Hillsborough families."

Mr Kerr, who after his expulsion from Labour joined the Scottish Socialist Party before leaving with Tommy Sheridan to join his breakaway Solidarity party, which he worked for as a press officer, was elected to the European Parliament in 1994 and remained an MEP until 1999.

He last week revealed that he would ignore the call to use both votes for the SNP for Thursday's election, opting to back the Greens with his regional vote, but his public rejection of policy was apparently tolerated by the party. He said he had already voted SNP with his constituency vote by post.

There has been some controversy on social media over Ms Sturgeon's decision to pose with The Sun, with a bizarre and incorrect conspiracy theory emerging that she had actually posed with a copy of The Dandy before it was digitally altered in a bid to discredit her.

Mr Kerr, who has acted as a SNP conference delegate for Edinburgh West and said he had come close to becoming a party MP last year after standing for selection in Kilmarnock, added: "In Alex [Salmond] and Nicola we have had two of the smartest political leaders in Britain which makes this photo opportunity disaster more regretful. Indeed like many friends in the SNP I was convinced it had been photoshopped originally by the Sun.

"I will continue to support the SNP where appropriate but would warn against being corrupted by power. I saw this in New Labour where gaining power for its own sake became the objective rather than using power to change the world.

"I am also concerned that the SNP is becoming a top down centralist control freak party which doesn't brook dissent. We saw this at recent conferences where motions were systematically excluded or changed to suit the leadership, this way lies decline and despair. Success will happen this week and didn't need the endorsement of the Sun but seeking power without principles is the way to defeat."