Police probe 'hate crime' as row over Black Bitch name escalates
Police have launched a probe into “racist messages” allegedly sent to activists trying to stop the name of an historic local pub being changed because its owners claim it's racially offensive.
Police Scotland revealed that they were treating the complaints as a “hate crime” but said investigations were at an early stage.
Campaigners opposing a bid by pub owners Greene King to rename The Black BItch pub in Linlithgow as The Black Hound reported receiving emails containing vile racist slurs.
Locals in the West Lothian town are are furious about the move because they take pride in calling themselves “Black Bitches” and highlight the fact that the dog forms part of the former Royal Burgh’s coat of arms.
They blame the UK’s biggest pub owners for sparking the apparent rise in racial tension in the area.
Alistair Old, who is leading the spirited campaign to retain the pub’s name, revealed he had attended a meeting between one of the complainers and constables from Police Scotland.
He said: “There’s some really ugly stuff going around in emails sent directly to people and we’re concerned as to how they’ve been tracked down, and we’re concerned about people’s safety.
“The pub owners say they’re not responsible for a rise in racial tension in Linlithgow. They say it’s just a simple name change for the pub.
“We explained our concerns to the police about what might happen if this escalates.”
A Greene King spokesperson said: “We thoroughly condemn any racist abuse and our thoughts are with anyone subjected to this.
"We’re changing the name because we spoke to people who find it offensive and we want everyone to feel welcome in our pubs.
“For someone to use the name change as an excuse to send racist messages is abhorrent and we would support any police investigation into the matter.
"We’re continuing discussions locally on the new name.”
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "We can confirm that officers have been made aware of an alleged hate crime in Linlithgow, which was reported on Monday, 3 January. Enquiries into the matter are at an early stage.”
Mr Old said Greene King had been in touch with the protest group recently to suggest alternative new names for the Black Bitch in an apparent attempt to be more inclusive.
He added: “We keep telling them the name is not racist and we’ve proved it’s nothing to do with race but they’re saying it’s offensive and things now seem to have kicked off.
“We’ve got 11,000 people telling them to leave the thing alone. We’ve got Martyn Day, the MP, working with us, councillors are up in arms – the whole lot. The three councillors wrote a joint letter to GK and they’re still waiting for a reply.
“There could be people potentially hurt here. We weren’t expecting the level of stuff that came back. The police were shocked by what they were reading.”
Weighing in to the controversy, Steve Athwal who is Scottish born from an Indian background and has lived in Linlithgow for 20 years said he was more offended that someone should think he was offended.
He said: “Let’s not weaponise this. If anyone from a BAME background is offended then I say to you ‘calm down’, This is not about skin tone and protesting about the pub name because of the word ‘black’ makes a mockery of any serious debate about equality.”
The name of The Black Bitch in the town’s West Port dates back to at least the 17th century.
The pub was originally named after a black, female greyhound that features on the town’s heraldic crest of the former Royal Burgh and has been commemorated by a statue in Linlithgow High Street.
A 13th Century legend has it that the dog’s master was chained to an island in the middle of Linlithgow Loch for committing a crime. The dog then used to swim out every night with food to prevent him from starving to death.
The nobles of the town couldn't understand why the man was still alive then found out about the dog which was also chained to the island. The story has been used to teach primary school children about loyalty.
An online petition started by Susan Watt to stop The Black Bitch being renamed says: “This is part of the Linlithgow History and one of the oldest pubs in Scotland!”
Greene King, the UK’s biggest pub owners, have publicly apologised for its founder’s links to transatlantic slavery and has already changed the names of two pubs called the Black Boy, and the Black’s Head.
Its bosses have refused to bow to local pressure, and are pressing ahead with plans to rename all their pubs with names seen as having racist connotations by the end of the year.