Colin Mafham, a journalist of 50 years, has been fired from the Express after writing a “vile, presumptuous and repugnant” article about Liverpool FC fans.
Mafham who is appealing the dismissal for gross misconduct, said that it is a “gag on the freedom of speech” and a “terrible unjust slur.”
The opinion piece in question was published in the Sunday Express in April. It was headlined: Liverpool Must Take Serious Action After Roma Violence or Risk Further Trouble.
It was published following clashes between Liverpool and Roma fans, which left one supporter critically ill in hospital. A few days earlier, the Manchester City bus was attacked by Liverpool fans as the team arrived at Anfield for a Champions League fixture.
In the article, Mafham asked: “why does trouble seem to follow them (LFC fans) like bees round a honey pot?”
He said that he didn’t have a problem with the players, but “some of the people who ‘follow’ them that frighten the living daylights out of me.”
“You would have thought the horrors at Hillsborough and 96 more deaths that followed only four years later would have made everyone more aware of their responsibilities to each other,” continued the article.
“Those two tragedies, in which the central figures were sadly mostly from Liverpool, are arguably football’s most painful Achilles and hopefully will never happen again.”
The online piece was removed on the day of publication, with the Daily Express editor, Gary Jones, apologising personally to the Mayor of Liverpool over the story. Jones, himself a Liverpool fan, used his previous newspapers Sunday Mirror and Sunday People to campaign for justice for the 96.
An official apology was also printed in the Express stating that the article was“ill-informed and wrong.” It added that it didn’t reflect the views of the newspaper, it “should never have been written and was very quickly removed.”
It concluded: “We unconditionally apologise, both for the article itself and any offence, understandably, caused.”
Yesterday, Liverpool Echo’s head of sport called the article: “vile, presumptuous and repugnant.”
Mafham argues that he was fired for commercial reasons and told the Press Gazette that he had been “offered as a sacrificial lamb to a baying mob” so that the Express wasn’t boycotted in Liverpool, like the Sun.
The Express is published by Reach, which also publishes the Liverpool Echo.
A Reach spokesperson wouldn’t comment directly on the case, because of the appeal, but added:
“Talking in general terms, freedom of expression for journalists is not a free pass to publish ill-informed, inaccurate, and misjudged comments. When journalists are given a platform for their opinions, it comes with the quid pro quo that what they write is to be founded on fact and reasoned argument.”