The Sun newspaper has published an apology to Everton and England footballer Ross Barkley over a column in which he was compared to a gorilla.
In the opinion piece by former editor Kelvin MacKenzie, disparaging remarks were made about midfielder Barkley, whose grandfather was born in Nigeria, sparking accusations of racism.
Today an apology appeared on page five of the popular tabloid, headlined: “Ross Barkley: Sun apology”.
The piece read: “On April 14 we published a piece in the Kelvin MacKenzie column about footballer Ross Barkley which made unfavourable comparisons between Mr Barkley and a gorilla.
“At the time of publication the paper was unaware of Ross Barkley’s heritage and there was never any slur intended. As soon as his background was drawn to our attention, the article was removed from online.”
The piece went on: “We have been contacted by lawyers on behalf of Ross Barkley, who has made a formal complaint about the piece.
“The Sun has apologised for the offence caused by the piece. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise personally to Ross Barkley.”
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Alongside the column, written after 23-year-old Barkley had been punched in a Liverpool bar the previous weekend, was a photograph of a gorilla’s eyes below a close-up of the footballer’s eyes.
In the column, MacKenzie wrote: “Perhaps unfairly, I have always judged Ross Barkley as one of our dimmest footballers. There is something about the lack of reflection in his eyes which makes me certain not only are the lights not on, there is definitely nobody at home.”
He went on to compare the feeling to “seeing a gorilla at the zoo”, sparking widespread criticism.
Everton went on to ban Sun reporters from their Goodison Park stadium and training ground and MacKenzie was suspended by the newspaper over the column.
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson also reported the columnist to Merseyside Police for what he said were “racial slurs”
Speaking after his suspension, which was announced on the eve of the 28th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, MacKenzie said he had no idea of Barkley’s family background and to describe the article as racist was “beyond parody”.
He was editor of the Sun when it published a front-page article headlined “Hillsborough: The Truth” in the aftermath of the 1989 disaster at Sheffield Wednesday’s football stadium, with an article claiming Liverpool fans were to blame for the tragedy. MacKenzie apologised in 2012.