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.

22 Responses to “The legend of Akinwale Arobieke”

  1. I first heard of him when I taught in a secondary school in Skelmersdale, and as you say he was like a bogey man figure to the teenagers there. I’m sure most of them didn’t really believe he was real. They are not prodding at the man himself, but at the caricature he has become, the legends, and their own fears. Like telling ghost stories.
    The thing that strikes me about his story is the frustrating situation we find ourselves in with many mental health issues that lead to crime. It’s clear from the repeated offences that the way he is being dealt with at the moment (by the law) is not tackling the underlying cause of his behaviour, yet the state is powerless to compel him into treatment that might prevent him from continuing to act on his impulses. I hope he is getting treatment in prison, but I suspect this might not be the case. To take away someone’s rights by sectioning is no easy decision, nor should it be, but if someone is repeatedly offending in this way I wonder what our options are?
    I don’t have an easy answer.

  2. Disappointing that you bothered to write all that without bothering to mention that a major part of the “myth” of Purple Aki in the pre-Internet days was racism and school children learning to be scared of big black men.

    The entire thing reflects badly on Merseyside.

  3. I’d say – and I don’t want to speak for Robin – that it reflects badly on society as a whole. That he was from Merseyside (one of the most tolerant and inclusive areas of the UK) is a fact, the way he was treated – and the reasons behind it – were more nuanced, I fear. Anecdotal, I know, but we had a similar situation here on the Wirral, with a man (white) who was known to be hanging out around Bidston Hill. Bogeymen are race-less and colourless in the nightmares of kids and their parents. It’s a tragedy that Akinwale was, in fact, a real person who needed help.

  4. Yes, Dave has pretty much outlined my position. There may be a racial aspect to it – or there may have been in the past – but ultimately I don’t think it’s about race; I think it’s about how we view and treat people who are mentally ill, regardless of their colour.

  5. Like many (or perhaps even most) gay people I have experienced prolonged periods of intense personal, political and societal persecution during my lifetime as a result of being born the way I am, including both physical and mental assaults, the likes of which drive the weakest to suicide.

    Unfortunately, awareness of what such persecution does to a person can only be gained by experience, and the persecutor – just like the village idiot baying for blood at the witches fire – will never know what it is like (unless, of course, their name is arbitrarily called next!).

    Due to my experiences, I will always be aware of the ugly undercurrent that is barely concealed below the surface of humanity; I’m afraid stories like this don’t just reflect badly on Liverpool society, but on humans as a whole. The truth is that humans can have an unrivaled passion for cruelty that can take little persuasion to unthinkingly unleash that cruelty on anyone who becomes a target for any reason at all.

    Until humans and their societies can exorcise this cruelty from themselves, things really haven’t moved from the middle ages. Frankly, I doubt humanity’s capacity to do so, let alone its will.

  6. Matty M

    Oh my lord. How wrong is this article. Are you wearing purple tinted specs? Do you really think Akinwale Arobieke is a misunderstood soul and not sound of mind? How much research actually went into this article? He is a thug and a gangster, completely aware of his actions. Maybe the folklore is out of hand, but the public should be kept aware of someone who has proven to be a constant menace to society

  7. I’d’ve said the fact that he’s received years of psychiatric counselling, the fact that he asks people to perform squat thrusts due – according to Merseyside Police – due to a bizarre sexual predilection – and the fact that he apparently believes that he is only on a search to find the best bodybuilder in the world might suggest that he has some mental illness issues.

    This article isn’t an apologia for a man who – as I say – clearly poses a danger to young men. It’s a rumination on how we treat people in our society who are mentally ill – and Arobieke clearly hasn’t been well-served.

    Making fun of someone who’s mentally Ill isn’t some noble public service – it’s a sad reflection on our collective attitudes.

  8. Paul M

    Erm, why are people making out Arobieke to be some kind of persecuted misunderstood type?

    We used to call a guy “Chalky” in school because he was so pale. Being white, is this racist? No.

    Arobieke has been in jail on five separate occasions and is currently subject to a ban from even entering Widnes, Warrington, or St Helens.

    He needs help, true. But to wave away his intimidating sexual aggression as “racism” or “homophobia” is a very, very dangerous piece of disingenuity.

  9. I’ve met the man in Topman in Crewe. He came over to me and a friend and asked “what are you benching?”. We didn’t have a clue it was him at the time, and after several more weights and exercise related questions I filmed him on my phone, because I found it rather strange and amusing. He noticed what I was doing and immediately turned and walked away. A couple of days later the local paper reported several sightings of him in Crewe.

  10. This article is completely perverse. I, myself, have been bothered by him in WH Smith but, luckily, was too old to be intimidated by him. However, several years earlier, two of my closest teenage friends had terrifying incidents with him. He took my friend (15 yrs old at the time) to a deserted office stairwell and made him do squats with him on his back. He also tried bearhugs, etc, to try and get him to faint. This went on for 30 mins and left my friend traumatised. My friend also came home one day and found Arobeke sitting on his living room sofa chatting to his grandmother.

    My other friend was walking through Hale village at night and realised he was being followed by Arobeke. He was then chased through private rear gardens in pitch black darkness before escaping. He was left terrified by the incident.

    It has not been mentioned here that ‘Purple Aki’ chased a Wirral teenager resulting in him dying under a train. He was aquitted in the resulting trial. It has been rumoured that he has African friends in high places who have pulled strings in the past although this has never been substantiated.

    This is not gossip or folklore.

    A poor, misunderstood soul indeed.

  11. Apologies to all who’ve commented sharing stories concerning personal encounters with Akinwale. It certainly was never our intention to make light of what obviously must have been a traumatic experience.

  12. I do mention the overturned manslaughter charge. It’s there in black and white. And there’s nothing perverse about it at all. The very foundation of the article is that if government and society had a plan for dealing with people who are mentally ill so that they pose a danger to other members of the public, the likelihood of dangerous situations arising around those people is minimised.

    Arobieke is a case in point. He’s clearly someone who has repeatedly posed a danger to young men over several decades, yet there is no response for how someone like this should be dealt with.

    A result of this is that a dangerous man who is mentally ill is turned into a figure of fun. On the face of it that’s potentially harmless but it’s still, frankly, making fun of someone who is mentally ill. And it obscures the fact that a man who’s a danger to himself and others has largely been free to roam the streets for years and years – and probably will for years to come.

    I think that’s a Hell of a lot more perverse.

  13. I was with Gary Kelly that day, I saw the terror in his eyes when someone told him Aki was outside when we were in New Brighton baths, he killed that poor lad, he hated the fact he wanted to join the police force, we were kids, we got accused of being racist in court, we received allsorts of mail from numerous Toxteth community groups telling us Akis story and what really happened that day in newsletters and it was outrageous, he never just killed Gary that day too he killed his mother, she turned to alcohol and the rest is history.
    Now I look at his history, if this man was white and oldish he would have been strung up but instead he is made out as some funny celebrity, he’s a paedophile and a killer…shame on these people

  14. Roger van der Velde

    People can laugh, but as a 15 year-old, having him catch up with you in a cenotaph garden at night or chase you all over the town was bloody terrifying. He had me and my mates doing all kinds of daft squats in the middle of the street in the 1980s. He also turned up at the most bizarre moments. One day when one of my mates went home he found him there having a cup of tea and his mother said: “One of your friends is waiting for you in the living room”..!