The mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has called on The Sun to sack its columnist Kelvin MacKenzie, after he compared Everton footballer Ross Barkley, who is mixed-race, to a gorilla.
Mr MacKenzie, a former editor of the paper, wrote that he was not surprised the midfielder was punched in a nightclub, because he was like an animal in a zoo.
The piece was accompanied by a picture of the footballer juxtaposed with a picture of a gorilla.
Merseyside police have confirmed they are investigating complaints of a racial hate crime in relation to the article.
The piece also offended many in Liverpool, where, according to the columnist, “the only men with similar pay packets [to Mr Barkley] are drug dealers.”
News UK, the parent company which owns The Sun, said they have suspended Mr MacKenzie while the incident is “fully investigated”.
The statement also claimed “the paper was unaware of Ross Barkley's heritage and there was never any slur intended.”
Mr Anderson said: “Make no mistake about it, MacKenzie’s words were racist.
“Kelvin’s words will have been passed through several people and signed off by an editor. Ignorance simply cannot be used as a defence.”
Sorry to share the Sun but it is important for people to see just how despicable the publshed Mackenzie article is. pic.twitter.com/5X0l9qlEQl— Joe Anderson (@mayor_anderson) April 14, 2017
The mayor, who is an Everton fan, has also been leading a campaign for the club to boycott The Sun and ban its journalists from their press conferences.
“Despite my best to encourage Everton FC to ban The Sun, I can’t help but feel a sense of betrayal in the knowledge that our club gives cover to journalists of the very same publication that continues to attack and smear the people of Liverpool,” he said.
Today, Everton and Liverpool fans will mark the 28th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people lost their lives.
Mr Anderson has called on Everton supporters to turn their backs to the pitch at 3.06pm, the exact time the semi-final match at Hillsborough was abandoned, to “send a clear message to the board that The Sun is not welcome at our club”.
Mr MacKenzie was editor of The Sun when the paper published its infamous allegations that Liverpool fans had urinated on police officers and picked the pockets of corpses at Hillsborough.
The move prompted a widespread boycott of the paper in Liverpool that is still observed by many.
The accusations have since been proven false, while a jury found in April last year that the 96 victims were unlawfully killed following a 27-year legal battle for justice, led by the families of those who died.
At the time of writing, a Change.org petition calling on Everton to boycott the paper had gained 1,220 signatures.
Everton Football Club has been contacted for comment.