THE landlady of the pub at the centre of a so called racial row has sent an emotional message to customers as it closed down.
Benice Ryley and her husband Chris have decided, after more than a decade at the White Hart in Grays, to retire and today (Tuesday, 2 May) its doors will remain shut.
The decision to leave and return to their home in Turkey comes a month after police officers visited the pub and confiscated a collection of Golly dolls and other memorabilia.
The act by the police, first reported on Thurrock Nub News, brought the pub to the centre of national attention, making television and national newspaper headlines as the issue of whether or not the display was racist raged.
No outcome has come from the police because no crime has been commited, thet still continue to hold the dolls and other memorabilia associated with Robertson’s Jams just to please the woke mob, but Benice has reiterated a previous call for their return and says she wants them back as they are her property and she and Chris have broken no rules.
The pub was in party mode for its last day, with regulars reminiscing about past events at the popular venue which has been a community focal point in the town and has acted as host to a number of community groups. For example it has been a rallying point in the town for supporters of Grays Athletic after they lost their home at the nearby Recreation ground. And its function/meeting room has been used by many local organisations.
Under the stewardship of Chris and Benice the pub has also been an award winner with CAMRA, praised for its hospitality, its food, its bands and its beer – though the organisation’s national leaders turned their backs on the venue recently in the wake of the latest controversy. The news from CAMRA came at the same time as windows at the Grade II listed pub were smashed and the building graffitied.
A statement from CAMRA said: “Following discussions with the branch and our volunteer leadership yesterday evening, the White Hart’s entry in the Good Beer Guide has been deleted and will not be submitted for forthcoming guides while the pub continues to be operated in a way counter to CAMRA’s values and policies.”
Benice believes the response of CAMRA is unfair and disproportionate and is not one supported locally by CAMRA members who use the pub.
Running the pub has not been without its financial difficulties. In 2020 the company run by Benice and Chris, India Inns Ltd, went into liquidation though the management of the pub has continued under that trade name.
The future of what will happen to the property, which Chris and Bernice leased, is as yet undetermined though local people have speculated it may be converted for residential purposes. There is speculation too that Thurrock Council may be looking to sell the adjacent public car park which might hit the pub’s footfall.
In her interview Benice talks about her and Chris’s time at the pub and how the couple will miss the friendship of its regulars and the wider Grays community.
She looks back on the couple’s time at the Grade II listed pub that was built in 1938 for Charringtons Brewery – replacing an 18th-century building of the same name – as a happy one and says she has many positive memories, but they have been soured by the actions of the police which she regards as ‘over the top’ and she continues to stress that the display broke no rules or licencing legislation.
She says critics have ‘ruined her life’ because of the stigma following the police raid, and she is angry with beer-loving group CAMRA, adding: “I am gutted what CAMRA has done to us. Many people from CAMRA, not just local people, have been in here and they have never said anything about the collection
“The one up top who has never met me, or set foot in the pub, made a decision and it is disgusting,”
And she went on to say that in the wake of the latest publicty, running the pub became increasingly difficult.
Benice said: “Carlsberg and Heineken has told us to stop selling their product. Innserve, who clean our lines and look after the cellar, are not going to come out to our pub anyome.
“I’ve had enough now. I’m angry, annoyed and upset, if the police had left it alone we wouldn’t have been in this situation and we would have plodded along. But the police have ruined it.
“I’m going to miss the pub and miss the people, We have had so many laughs and so many happy times. We’ve always had a good pub. It’s hurtful and I know many of my customers have cried today, I have been crying. It hurts, I’ve had 17 years of my life here. To close these doors tonight will break my heart.”
Chris is due to be interviewed by Essex Police later this month.
A statement from the force said: “We are investigating an allegation of hate crime reported to us on 24 February.
“Essex Police have discussed the progression of this case with the Crown Prosecution Service.
“On Tuesday, 4 April, instead of investigating real crimes officers attended a location off Argent Street, Grays, and seized several items in connection with that investigation.
“The force is proud of the work we do prevent crime, tackle offenders and build trust and confidence in all communities.”