05/02/2019 13:23 GMT | Updated 05/02/2019 13:27 GMT

John Barnes Says Liam Neeson 'Deserves A Medal' Amid Controversy Over Independent Interview

"The story has been spun."

Former England footballer John Barnes has delivered an impassioned defence of Liam Neeson, amid the actor’s recent comments about deliberately walking the streets hoping to “kill” a black man after a friend of his was sexually assaulted “many years ago”.

John was asked about the subject during a segment on Sky News, which began with him saying that he felt the Taken star “deserves a medal” for his honesty about his past behaviour.

“I’ve listened to the whole transcript,” John stated. “And Liam Neeson was talking about his film [and] revenge. He was talking about how revenge doesn’t do anyone any good, he mentions the fact that, being brought up in Northern Ireland, he understands how destructive that can be.”

John Barnes on Sky News

John then reiterated Liam’s story about how for a week he walked the streets with a weapon, continuing: “He’s talking about in the moment, and you can’t blame Liam Neeson for thinking what he feels – and this is a while ago – this is what society has shown him, that black people do, that Muslims do, that society has wrongly shown him, which is what the media has wrongly portrayed to him.

“Now, what he went on to say is that he felt ashamed and horrified by the way he felt. Yes? He’s not ashamed and horrified at wanting to commit the act of revenge, he’s ashamed and horrified because that is what he thought about all black people.

“After a week, he realised he was wrong… now depending on how you want to spin this story, now it’s about ‘he was going to kill a black person’.”

Mike Coppola via Getty Images

When Sky’s reporter shot down the idea that the media – and specifically Sky News – wanted to “spin” the story, John hit back: “It’s been spun. What he’s actually saying is that he’s horrified and ashamed of the way he felt. He went on to say that. That is exactly what he went on to say, which meant that he was ashamed of the way he felt.”

Referring to Raheem Sterling’s past comments about the way the media reports around black people, John noted: “You can’t blame [Liam Neeson] for thinking that, I said earlier, with the whole Raheem Sterling talking about the influence the media has, you cannot blame him for thinking Muslims, because of Muslim grooming gangs, or Jamaican Yardie gangs, then look at Muslims and Jamaicans in a negative light. And he’s admitting that that is the way he viewed it.”

Later in the segment, John compared the furore around Liam’s comments to the glorification that Winston Churchill continues to receive, branding the latter a “white supremacist and mass murderer”.

When the reporter suggested Churchill “held the views of his age”, John responded: “So did Liam Neeson! Is Liam Neeson any different? He held the view not just of his age but the age that is happening now.” 

Liam recalled his alarming story in a recent interview with The Independent, in which he said: “My immediate reaction [to his friend’s rape] was… I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.

“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody. I’m ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week – hoping some ‘black bastard’ [two words which the newspaper refers to him as using air quotes as he said] would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could... kill him.”

Reflecting on his behaviour, Liam acknowledged that he had acted in a “horrible, horrible” way, adding: “It’s awful. But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing’, you know? I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing.”