A husband and wife team have vowed to put their collection of golliwog dolls back on display after they were seized by police in the latest salvo of a five-year battle with critics labeling the plushies a hate crime.
Benice Ryley, 61, and her husband Chris, 65, had five officers enter their pub on Tuesday and take away the 15 dolls after an anonymous complaint was made against them.
So says Secretary of the Interior Suella Braverman are furious at the approach and have told Essex Police that bosses should focus on catching real criminals rather than confiscating toys.
Ms Ryley, who has run the White Hart Inn in Grays, Essex with her husband for 17 years, said some of the dolls are very valuable, worth up to £1,000.
“The police still have the dolls and I have no updates at all,” she said. “The whole thing is totally crazy. Ever since the gollies were taken and the story was in the papers so many people have been in touch with me and my husband to tell us not to give up and keep them on our shelf.
Chris Ryley (left) runs the White Hart in Grays, Essex with his wife Benice (right)
Benice Ryley, 61, was questioned by six officers after police received an anonymous complaint about the golliwog display at The White Hart Inn in Grays, Essex
“For the past two days, my clients keep singing ‘save the gollies’ and they want us to bring them back.
“So we’re having a sign made that says ‘Gollies are on display so don’t come in if it offends you'” and when that’s done we’ll put some more puppets on the shelf.
Ms Ryley said she has been told the couple are unlikely to get them back until her husband Chris returns from Turkey in May and is also questioned.
The raid comes after the couple refused to remove the black-faced dolls after the local government received a complaint in 2018.
Thurrock Council launched an investigation after a whistleblower claimed the golliwogs were abusive and represent a racially aggravated crime.
But Mr Ryley said the dolls were ‘here to stay’ and his no-nonsense approach paid off after the council confirmed no further action will be taken.
The pair have built up a collection of the black-faced toys and other memorabilia donated by customers over the years.
A cop puts the golliwog dolls in a clear evidence bag
CCTV footage shows six officers walking into the pub before confiscating the dolls
Mrs Ryley said, ‘They are very valuable sentimentally.
‘The last thing this pub is racist, we always have Indian weddings here and of course everyone is welcome. I told the officers it was all ridiculous to send so many of them for something so small – as they were packing up the gollies I said ‘don’t worry, they won’t resist arrest’.’
History of the golliwog doll: how the obsolete childhood toy became a symbol of bitter controversy
The question of whether the dolls are racist or not often leads to fierce discussions.
The golliwog was created by Florence Kate Upton in 1895 in her book ‘The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwog’ where it was described as ‘a horror sight, the blackest gnome’.
After the author created the golliwog, it became a collector’s favorite and was popular in the UK as the mascot of Robertson’s jam.
But by the 1980s, it was increasingly seen as an offensive racist caricature of black people.
Some people hark back to fond childhood memories of the dolls, while others argue that golliwogs are a racist icon of a bygone era.
Marmalade firm Robertson’s removed its iconic golliwog logo from its canning jars in 2002 following complaints from campaigners.
In a YouGov poll last year, 53 percent of respondents said they thought selling or displaying golliwogs was “acceptable,” compared to 27 percent who did not.
When asked if it was racist to sell or display a golliwog doll, 63 percent of respondents said no, while 17 percent thought it was.
A Home Office source said: ‘The Home Secretary’s views have now been made very clear to Essex Police, so they are under no illusions.
“The police shouldn’t get involved in this kind of nonsense. It’s about tackling anti-social behaviour, stopping violence against women and girls, attending burglaries and catching criminals – not confiscating dolls.’
The College of Policing issued updated guidelines last month stating that non-crime hate crime incidents should not be recorded if there is no basis for concluding that an incident was motivated by hostility.
The guidance also states: ‘Where possible, freedom of expression should be given priority.’
The source added: “The announcement last month of new non-criminal hate incident guidelines, due to take effect by the summer, should put an end to this (type of incident) once and for all.”
The now-controversial golliwog figure was created by American-British cartoonist and author Florence Kate Upton and appeared in children’s books in the 19th century.
The physical dolls became popular in Britain in the 1970s, but were considered a racist caricature of black people.
The first known example of the dolls being seized by British police was in 2007, when Greater Manchester Police seized two of them from a furniture shop near Wigan, Greater Manchester.
CCTV footage from last week’s incident shows the officers marching into the pub and putting the dolls in a bag of evidence.
Essex Police said: ‘We are investigating a hate crime allegation that was reported to us on 24 February. On Tuesday, April 4, agents seized several items in connection with that investigation.
“The investigation is ongoing, so we will not be commenting further at this stage.
“The police are proud of the work we do to prevent crime, apprehend offenders and build trust in all communities.”
She and husband Chris, 64, who is currently overseas, had their collection of 15 dolls on display after receiving them as gifts from clients over the years
The couple have run the White Hart Inn for the past 17 years after taking over when the pub emptied