Kelvin MacKenzie denies his article was racist as The Sun suspends him
Suspended Sun columnist Kelvin MacKenzie has said it is "beyond parody" for critics to describe his controversial article about Everton footballer Ross Barkley as "racist".
News UK suspended him from the tabloid with immediate effect after Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson spoke to police about Friday's column.
England midfielder Barkley, 23, has a Nigerian grandfather, which MacKenzie claimed he did not know about.
In his column on Friday, 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.
"So it came as no surprise to me that the Everton star copped a nasty right-hander in a nightclub for allegedly eyeing up an attractive young lady who, as they say, was 'spoken for'.
"The reality is that at £60,000 a week and being both thick and single, he is an attractive catch in the Liverpool area, where the only men with similar pay packets are drug dealers and therefore not at nightclubs, as they are often guests of Her Majesty."
Mr 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."
News UK described Mr MacKenzie's comments in his column as "wrong" and "unfunny".
In a statement, News UK said: "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."
The article, which has drawn outrage, was headlined "Here's why they go ape at Ross", alongside a close-up photograph of Barkley's eyes above the eyes of a gorilla.
Barkley was punched in a Liverpool bar last weekend in what his lawyer described as an "unprovoked attack".
That scumbag !mckenzie!is at it again!cant help himself the obnoxious ignorant horrible beast!!So near a sombre date too!— John Aldridge (@Realaldo474) April 14, 2017
MacKenzie's column also suggested that Barkley would have "learned a painful lesson" from the altercation in Santa Chupitos bar.
He went on: "He is too rich and too famous to be spending his time in local hangouts where most of the customers have only just broken through the £7.50-an-hour barrier."
Mr Anderson, who said he had given a statement to Merseyside Police, dismissed Mr MacKenzie's defence of his column.
He told the Press Association: "It's no defence, is it, just because he didn't know - he should have found out, as if he was calling himself a professional journalist.
"To call it a parody or whatever is a just nonsense - he's a parody of a journalist."
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the press watchdog, said it would know the number of any complaints by Tuesday after the long Easter weekend.