X Factor finalist Anthony Russell poses with convicted killer pal Michael Sands

Laughing Anthony Russell larks around with brutal killer Michael Sands in a photo where he marks their long friendship by posting: “Nice day with the fellas my man Mike day oner!!!!”.

But the snap sparked outrage among X Factor bosses, including Simon Cowell, who are said to have ­considered kicking the finalist off the show for his links to the thug.

Sands had been jailed for battering defenceless 18-year-old Neil Murphy in ­Liverpool in 2010. The victim suffered brain damage after being punched and kicked in the head in an attack the trial judge described as “without mercy”. He died days later.

After we alerted X Factor bosses to the picture, taken earlier this year, a source said yesterday: “Producers weren’t aware of this at all and only found out today. They are absolutely furious with Anthony for not telling them about this.

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X Factor finalist Anthony Russell poses with convicted killer pal Michael Sands

X Factor finalist Anthony Russell poses with convicted killer pal Michael Sands

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X Factor finalist Anthony Russell poses with convicted killer pal Michael Sands

X Factor star Anthony Russell jokes around with close childhood friend Michael Sands

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“He has put his whole career at risk, not just this weekend at the X Factor final but if he wants a future career in showbiz, by going back to Liverpool and posing with this man.

“He was hanging around with someone guilty of a ­horrendous crime. It’s ­deplorable behaviour.

“Granted Sands is one of his oldest friends. They have known each other since he was eight. But it looks terrible and producers, including Simon, are furious the show’s ­reputation has been put at risk. Anthony has been severely ­reprimanded and told that hanging out with ex-convicts like this man is ­inappropriate.

X Factor finalist Anthony Russell poses with convicted killer pal Michael Sands

X Factor finalist Anthony Russell poses with convicted killer pal Michael Sands

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“Anthony is quite naive and easily influenced, but he is under no illusions of the ­seriousness of this. He is very lucky to still be on the show.”

Sands, who was 22 at the time, punched and kicked 10st Neil as he lay on the ground.

X Factor finalist Anthony Russell caught FaceTiming notorious jailed criminal

X Factor finalist Anthony Russell poses with convicted killer pal Michael Sands

Neil Murphy, who died in Liverpool’s Walton Centre hospital, after being attacked by Michael Sands

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Judge Mr Justice ­Henriques branded the assault “vicious and premeditated”.

Sands was cleared at Liverpool crown court of murder but convicted of manslaughter. He got eight and a half years’ jail and given an extended licence of two and a half years.

Russell said last night: “I can only apologise if this photograph has upset anyone.” A source added: “Anthony was friends with the victim as well. He was devastated.”

X Factor finalist Anthony Russell poses with convicted killer pal Michael Sands

Anthony Russell
(Image: Dymond/Thames/Syco/REX/Shutterstock)

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