One of Liverpool’s most enduring urban legends concerns Purple Aki, a man whose skin is so black that he apparently appears to be purple. So enduring is this rumour that Twitter and Facebook were lit up with announcements of his death, later debunked by local newspapers, one of which referred to him as a ‘sex fiend’.
Purple Aki – aka Akinwale Arobieke – was convicted of the manslaughter of a boy 20 years ago, only for the conviction to be quashed by the court of appeal.
He has also received a Sexual Offences Prevention Order that prevents him from touching the biceps of boys, a bizarre predilection of his that has become infamous throughout the North West and inspired various more lurid suggestions.
As such, Purple Aki has attracted an almost mythical notoriety and has become a kind of Merseyside bogeyman, like Clive Barker’s Candyman (a short story originally set in Toxteth), but without the bees.
While Purple Aki’s legend has in roots in an undoubted real-life tragedy, the story since then has taken repeated turns for the bizarre, disturbing and vaguely comic.
He received a ban on asking youngsters if he could touch or measure their muscles and asking people to perform squat exercises in public; acknowledging that we would only touch the muscles of consenting men in private and denies rumours of jumping on mens’ backs while in prison.
But the legend of Purple Aki has grown far beyond the reality with an animated cartoon, parody Twitter account, parody Linked In account (profession: Health, Wellness and Fitness Professional) and Glastonbury flag appearance to his name. It’s grown to such a point that the legend no longer bears much similarity to the reality.
There is something of the bogeyman about Arobieke. But beyond the playground, across social media, it’s clear that Arobieke is now a bona fide internet meme too.
He has passed into the public realm and now belongs to Twitter and Facebook. A man who is either a disturbed pervert or a persecuted oddball, though the two are hardly mutually exclusive, and a man who poses some sort of danger to youngsters. Either way it seems rather inappropriate to snigger at the ‘muscle-touching’ headlines.
It’s the sort of notoriety no-one ever really shakes off and, alleged crimes or not, it’s a slightly sad spectacle when someone clearly on the borders – or well into that troubled territory – of mental illness is prodded, poked and smirked at by the rest of society.