Golly dolls: Essex pub at centre of 'hate crime' investigation closes after police seize controversial dolls

The innkeepers, who have denied being racist, still want the dolls immediately returned - claiming “young people these days don’t understand”

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An Essex pub has closed a month after its collection of controversial golly dolls was seized by police in a "hate crime" investigation, after suppliers boycotted the establishment.

Police removed at least 15 golly dolls from the White Hart Inn in Grays, Essex on Tuesday (4 April), as part of an investigation into an allegation of hate crime reported in late February. The pub’s leaseholders, Benice Ryley and husband Chris, have now reportedly closed the pub as of Monday night (1 May).

Mrs Ryley told Thurrock Nub News “I’ve had enough”, claiming Carlsberg and Heineken had told the pub to stop selling their lager, and that maintenance firm Innserve refused to work at the pub. She also said Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) had removed the pub from its Good Beer Guide, and banned it from receiving awards.

Mrs Ryley told Thurrock Nub News she had received "very much support from many people about the gollies" in the wake of the highly-publicised doll removal. “We’ve had a few bits of hate, which I personally don’t understand because it’s part of our life.”

She insisted “young people these days don’t understand” the history of the dolls, saying some of her “collection” are “antiques”.

In early April, Mrs Ryley, 61, said she was quizzed by six officers after they received an anonymous complaint. She and husband Chris, 64, received their collection of dolls as gifts from customers over the years. she said.

The landlady had denied they are racist, but Facebook photos seen by NationalWorld show some of the dolls - considered outdated and a controversial and stereotypical caricature of black people - hung by their necks from the top of the bar.

CCTV footage shows police storming a couple's Essex pub and seizing their golly dolls, saying the toys were a suspected hate crime (Photos: SWNS)CCTV footage shows police storming a couple's Essex pub and seizing their golly dolls, saying the toys were a suspected hate crime (Photos: SWNS)
CCTV footage shows police storming a couple's Essex pub and seizing their golly dolls, saying the toys were a suspected hate crime (Photos: SWNS)

In one such photo on Mr Ryley's page, captioned: "We have our golliwogs, yaay", wife, Benice commented, "Are you sure this is legal. lol.” He replied: "They used to hang them in Mississippi years ago."

On another photo of a golly doll at his pub, a friend had posted a reaction image of a black man. Mr Ryley responded, "Is that he's pappa [sic]?"

Other posts on his Facebook page included a picture of a carrot family from an Aldi Christmas commercial, with the caption, "the only same race family you will see on TV this Christmas"; a Football World Cup post where he said England may end up "the only muslim country left in the World Cup;" and queries as to when White History month was.

The Guardian reports Essex Police have confirmed detectives conducting the investigation were aware of Mr Ryley’s Facebook posts. The outlet understood the posts were being reviewed as part of the investigation.

He is due to be interviewed by Essex police next month when he returns from the family’s holiday home in Turkey. The Guardian believes the investigation is focusing on establishing whether he intended to cause offence by displaying the dolls.

CCTV footage from last Tuesday showed the six officers walking into the bar, and questioning Ms Ryley at a table. One officer inspected the bar before gathering the dolls and placing them into a clear evidence bag.

A spokesperson for Essex Police said: "We are investigating an allegation of hate crime in Grays reported to us on 24 February. On Tuesday, 4 April, we attended a location off Argent Street, Grays, and seized several items in connection with our investigation."

The force has had to deny being directly reprimanded by Suella Braverman for sending officers to seize the collection of controversial dolls, which are considered racist, after the Mail Online reported a source close to the Home Secretary said her unhappiness at the incident had been passed on to the force. The outlet quoted a Home Office source as saying police forces “should not be getting involved in this kind of nonsense” and instead focus on “catching criminals”.

Essex Police said it was “categorically not true” that Ms Braverman had contacted the force about the probe, but did not rule out having been contacted by the Home Office.

Speaking to Thurrock Nub News, bar owner Ms Ryley said: "Apparently a visitor to the pub had been quite upset about them and made a complaint."

Husband Chris would be overseas until the middle of May, she said. "Police said as he is the licensee they need to interview him and they have taken the dolls away in the interim."

The couple have run the White Hart Inn for the past 17 years after buying and restoring the run-down pub. The couple has previously refused to remove the controversial dolls after the local authority received a complaint in 2018.

Ms Ryley added: "I don't understand why we have to go through all this again. We have the police taking away information that is literally the history of this country. And why?

"We are quite happy to call them dolls, not golliwogs, but even the officer who wrote down the inventory as he was taking them away described the larger one as a golliwog and the others as golly dolls," she continued. "So even the police don't know what to call them."

Ms Ryley said she understood that some people may not like them, "and they are entitled to that view, but they don't have to come into the pub".

"As far as we are aware we are not breaking any laws by displaying them, and that was proved last time when we were investigated. If we were not breaking the law then, why are we breaking the law now?" she said.

Ms Ryley said it took six officers to come and remove "a shelf full of dollies", and slammed it as a waste of taxpayers’ money. "When the police officers came, I pointed to the dolls and said ‘they haven't done anything.' The gollies all went quietly - none of them resisted arrest at all."

The innkeeper has denied being racist, and wanted the dolls immediately returned - and vowed to put them back behind the bar. "It is unreal - we haven't broken the law and there is no legal stuff that says I can't display them. It's just silly."

"I think the racist people are the ones who complain – it’s their problem, not us," she said. "I have so many different cultures come in here, we are definitely not racist. We do many Indian weddings, for example."