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A complaint from Liverpool's mayor has sparked police to investigate whether a column in The Sun newspaper constituted a hate crime.
Mayor Joe Anderson called for Kelvin MacKenzie to be fired after a column in which he compared a soccer player with African ancestry to a gorilla.
The mayor said MacKenzie "should not be employed by any news organisation in this country" and accused him of having a "vindictive streak" toward Liverpool, a port city some 210 miles (340 kilometers) north of London known as the birthplace of the Beatles.
The Sun, a popular tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, has apologised for the incident and suspended the columnist, a provocative former editor of the tabloid who has antagonised Liverpool fans in the past.
"The views expressed by Kelvin MacKenzie about the people of Liverpool were wrong, unfunny and are not the view of the paper," the newspaper said in a statement.
It said the newspaper was unaware of the player's African heritage and that no slur had been intended. The Sun promised a full investigation when MacKenzie returns from vacation.
MacKenzie was in charge when The Sun published a front- page headline accusing Liverpool fans of responsibility in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster in which dozens of people died and hundreds were injured.
He apologised more than two decades later. That made his comments about Everton player Ross Barkley's intelligence particularly inflammatory.
Police said today they are looking into the matter after receiving an online complaint from a member of the public.
"Enquiries are now being carried out to establish the full circumstances of the incident," police said in a statement. "We take all allegations of hate crime extremely seriously."
The column has been removed from the newspaper's website.