The Sun has published an apology to Everton and England footballer Ross Barkley over a column by Kelvin MacKenzie in which he compared the midfielder to a gorilla.
The piece, headlined “Ross Barkley: Sun apology”, appeared after the April 14 opinion piece in the paper sparked uproar and accusations of racism, the Press Association reported.
Alongside the column, which made disparaging remarks about the star, was was a photograph of a gorilla’s eyes below a close-up of the eyes of Barkley, whose grandfather was born in Nigeria.
The apology on page five of Saturday’s newspaper 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.
“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.”
Ipso, the press watchdog, also revealed earlier this week it had received over 200 complaints about the column - prompting a probe into whether the piece breached editors’ guidelines.
McKenzie wrote the column after Barkley, 23, had been punched in a Liverpool bar the previous weekend.
In his 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.
“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.”
The columnist was later suspended by the newspaper over the column.
Everton went on to ban Sun reporters from their Goodison Park stadium and training ground.
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson also reported the columnist to Merseyside Police for what he said were “racial slurs”
Speaking after his suspension, 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.”
McKenzie’s suspension was announced on the eve of the 28th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans died.
MacKenzie 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.
The article claimed Liverpool fans were to blame for the tragedy. MacKenzie apologised in 2012.