US civil rights pioneer the Reverend Al Sharpton has criticised Jeremy Clarkson’s “racist rant” against Meghan, Duchess of Sussex in The Sun, as a former judge called on the Metropolitan Police to investigate.
In an article published on Friday, Clarkson wrote that he had dreamed of the duchess being paraded naked through British towns and publicly shamed, adding that he hates her on a “cellular level”.
The piece attracted criticism from high-profile figures, MPs, and Clarkson’s own daughter, Emily Clarkson, while the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) said it had become its most complained-about article.
“The National Action Network and I join with the many others who have condemned the appalling remarks by Mr Jeremy Clarkson published this week in The Sun against the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle,” Rev Sharpton said in a statement released to The Independent.
“We condemn these racist and dehumanising actions in the strongest possible terms. They represent the vilest of the evil angels of our society and must find no refuge in the media. We join the calls for all people of goodwill in the US and abroad to stand united in this condemnation and demand for accountability.”
His comments came as Peter Herbert, a former judge and the chair of the Society of Black Lawyers, wrote to the Met urging it to take action against Clarkson over his column, arguing that it amounted to an incitement to racial hatred and should be investigated under the Public Order Act 1986.
”Given the scale and degree of race hate crime targeted at the Princess [sic] of Sussex, and the previous offensive conduct of Jeremy Clarkson, who is an individual who knows exactly what he is saying and the likely consequences of his editorial being published in the Sun newspaper, there is clear evidence of intent,” said the letter, which was sent to Met Police commissioner Mark Rowley on Tuesday.
The letter, seen by The Independent, was co-signed by equalities groups including the Society of Black Lawyers, Operation Black Vote and Bandung Africa, as well as activist Lee Jasper (a former mayoral adviser on race and policing), Viv Ahmun (the founder of Blaksox), the Labour MP for Streatham, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, and Claudia Webbe, the MP for Leicester East.
Describing his frustration with the duchess, Clarkson wrote: “At night, I’m unable to sleep as I lie there grinding my teeth and dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, ‘Shame!” and throw lumps of excrement at her.”
Mr Herbert, who is also a former chair of the Met Police Race Hate Crime Forum, said: “These words are clearly deeply offensive, and for many people of colour, who have a history of slavery and colonialism, images of being paraded naked for sale and abuse are sadly part of our legacy.
“That such abuse should appear in a national newspaper and encourage assaults is an absolute disgrace, and gives potential incitement for extremists in our society and elsewhere to carry out acts of violence.
“We are aware that the intended victim, the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, has received death threats and hate abuse online in the recent past, including use of the ‘N’ word on a regular basis.”
Backing calls for the Met Police to intervene, Rev Sharpton added: “We concur with the Society of Black Lawyers, Operation Black Vote and Bandung Africa that The Sun’s publishing of Mr Clarkson’s rant has dangerous potential consequences in the UK, the US and throughout the globe.”
The Met Police confirmed that a letter had been received from Mr Herbert, in addition to numerous other complaints about the column.
“A number of reports have been made to police following the publication of an article in a national newspaper on 17 December,” a spokesperson said. “The allegations have been assessed, no offences have been identified, and no further action will be taken.”
On Wednesday, Mr Rowley said: “There’s a line to be drawn. It’s not for police to get involved with [questions such as] is it ethnical, is it moral, is it proper, is it offensive. The legal lines are only crossed, generally, when things are said that are intended or likely to incite violence.
“I don’t think this is one of those cases, but of course we will keep a close eye on it.”
Clarkson, a former presenter of Top Gear, was sued for racial discrimination by a producer of the show in 2015, and has a history of making racist remarks, from using the n-word to describing Mexicans as “lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight [...]”.
Earlier this week, Clarkson’s column became Ipso’s most complained-about article.
The organisation said the piece, which was removed from The Sun’s website on Monday at Clarkson’s request, had received more than 17,500 complaints as of 9am on Tuesday, rising to 20,800 by 5pm. The reaction surpassed the total number of complaints the media regulator received in 2021 (14,355).
Ipso is a press-funded body whose purpose is to uphold journalistic standards in the UK. It was launched in 2014 in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry, which concluded that the Press Complaints Commission was not working. Membership of Ipso is voluntary.