Merseyside police have started an investigation of a Kelvin Mackenzie column in which he compared a mixed race footballer, Ross Barkley, to a gorilla. The police received an online complaint from someone who felt that the comments about Barkley was a racial hate crime. Mackenzie has since been suspended by the Sun newspaper.

What MacKenzie said

After Barkley was punched in a Liverpool nightclub in what was an “unprovoked attack” according to his lawyer, Kelvin MacKenzie made the comment that Ross Barkley deserved what he got. In his column for The Sun, he wrote that he always judged the player as one of their "dimmest footballers." He referred to a “lack of reflection” in Ross’ eyes that led him to the conclusion that the lights were “not on” and that for sure nobody was home.

He continued to say in his piece that he gets the same feeling when he sees a gorilla at the zoo and that he was not surprised Barkley was punched since he was similar to an animal in a zoo. To illustrate his piece, a photo was added beside the column that showed the footballer’s eyes placed on a gorilla’s face.

He had no idea

The former editor of the Sun and weekly columnist claimed he had no idea about the family background of Ross Barkley. He referred to any characterization of his article as racist was beyond parody. Kelvin Mackenzie was speaking to the Associated Press following the intense criticism that followed his comments in the article and the subsequent hate crime investigation. Barkley’s grandfather is Nigerian but the Sun also stated that the paper was unaware of his heritage.

The case against the columnist

Police have confirmed that they received a complaint and that they take all hate crime allegations seriously. Further, that they encourage anyone who feels they are a victim and witnesses of hate crimes to contact them. The third party complaint against Kelvin MacKenzie is currently being investigated with enquiries being conducted to determine all the circumstances of the incident according to the Merseyside police.

An apology and suspension

Liverpudlians and the British football community were quick to condemn the column. Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, described the Sun article as “racist and prehistoric” and has referred the column to the Independent Press Standards Organization and to the authorities. The London-based newspaper took action by removing the article from the website and suspending MacKenzie. The paper gave a statement saying the views by the writer were wrong and unfunny and apologized for the offence it caused.