The Sun prints apology for Kelvin MacKenzie column on Ross Barkley

Guardian staff
Kelvin MacKenzie made the controversial remarks on 14 April. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA

The Sun has published an apology to Ross Barkley after their columnist Kelvin MacKenzie compared the Everton footballer, who is mixed-race, to a gorilla.

MacKenzie, a former Sun editor, wrote the column after the player was attacked in a nightclub. He suggested that Barkley, who has a Nigerian grandfather, was punched because he was similar to an animal in a zoo.

The remarks led to his suspension and to Everton banning the newspaper’s journalists from its stadium, its training ground and all areas of the team’s operations.

The paper’s response, printed at the top left of page 5 of Saturday’s editon, has the headline “Ross Barkley: Sun apology”.

It reads: “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.

“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.”

The paper made no apology for other comments in the column that were criticised, where MacKenzie suggested the only men in Liverpool with similar pay packets to footballers were drug dealers.

Liverpool’s mayor, Joe Anderson, reported MacKenzie to the police for what he said were “racial slurs”. Merseyside police said inquiries were under way to “establish the full circumstances of the incident”.

The column was published the day before the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, coverage of which by the Sun under MacKenzie’s leadership led to a boycott of the paper on Merseyside that lasts until today.

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.

“I get a similar feeling when seeing a gorilla at the zoo. The physique is magnificent but it’s the eyes that tell the story.”

News UK, the owners of the Sun, had already issued an apology on its behalf. After removing the article from their website on the afternoon of Friday 14 April and then suspending MacKenzie, they issued a statement that read: “The views expressed by Kelvin MacKenzie about the people of Liverpool were wrong, unfunny and are not the view of the paper. The Sun apologises for the offence caused.

“The paper was unaware of Ross Barkley’s heritage and there was never any slur intended. Mr MacKenzie is currently on holiday and the matter will be fully investigated on his return.”

After the initial outcry, MacKenzie told the Press Association: “I had no idea of Ross Barkley’s family background and nor did anybody else. For the mayor of Liverpool and a handful of others to describe the article as racist is beyond parody.”

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