Chris Ryley and his wife, Benice, who have run the White Hart pub in Grays, Essex, for the past 12 years have said they will not back down following anonymous complaints from punters who took exception to the dolls, which the couple received as gifts.
An investigation has been launched after a complainant stated that displaying the golliwogs – seen as a deeply offensive caricature of black people – represented a racially aggravated crime.
Chris Ryley, told the Daily Mail: “The head of licensing at the council phoned to tell me a complaint had been made and said the same person had also gone to the police.
“He asked if I would consider taking them down. I was shocked – I told the council I would think about it but I cannot see how I have committed an offence so they are here to stay.
“Since we have had them up behind the bar in the past three years, there has only ever been two complaints.”
We will stand our ground
Also speaking to the Daily Mail Benice Ryley added: “It has been upsetting to know that someone complained.
“I will stand my ground. We will stand our ground. I had a golliwog when I was a child and I wish I had kept it.
“For me the golliwogs are nothing to do with racism and we will dig our heels in and will not be taking them down.”
The complaint over the White Hart’s decorations is the latest example of a pub receiving complaints for offensive materials, with a Notting Hill pub choosing to remove a poster after complaints over racism earlier this year.
Bad taste versus criminal offence
Discussing where pubs stood when it came to their choice of decoration, James Anderson, partner at law firm Poppleston Allen, said: "Ultimately, the same rules apply to pubs as to anyone else. You can't commit a criminal offence. For example if they displayed a poster inciting racial hatred then that's clearly a criminal offence for which the landlord could be prosecuted – that would apply to anyone.”
Referring to the White Hart pub’s choice of decoration, Anderson added: "When you've got something like this, it's not, I would say, a criminal offence and, therefore, while it may be distasteful to some people, it is a matter for the landlord really as to whether he or she wants to keep these there.
"I've read that a complaint has been made, and I understand the reason why people may be offended and make a complaint, but I can't really see how it can affect his licence.
"The council can review the licence, but I'm not quite sure what the grounds would be if there's no criminal offence. I can't see that there is any – I can't see that there's any risk to his licence, or to anyone's licence, who happens to have in their pub matters or items which may cause offence but fall short of criminality.”
"It's a bit grey, to be honest - but it's not grey in the sense of if someone put's something up in a pub that is distasteful to some people then don't go in - a lot of people find things distasteful - adverts and all sorts - but in the absence of criminality there's not much the council can do."
Businesses should be mindful of their actions
While publicans can, legally speaking, decorate however they choose, provided they’re not committing a criminal offence, as hubs of their community, pub’s need to be aware of the responsibility they have to be inclusive so that they don’t alienate their community and drive away custom by causing offence.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), commented: “The UK’s pubs have a justified reputation for being friendly and welcoming, appealing to customers from many backgrounds and all walks of life.
“Generally speaking, pubs are receptive to people’s concerns and sensitive to anything that might be offensive and avoid them accordingly.
“Businesses should be aware that actions likely to offend a significant number of people will run the risk of driving away customers.”