Campaigners won a bid to have their pub listed as a community asset - only to find a sale had been confirmed on the same day.
Punch Taverns put the Rose and Crown, in Maldon High Street, on the market last November, but licensees Tony Harding and Kelly Bermingham found out from the estate agent.
Customers formed the Rose and Crown Community Pub Action Group and successfully applied to Maldon District Council for it to be listed as a community asset, which would have given them a chance to bid to buy it.
But it emerged contracts were exchanged for the sale of the Rose and Crown on the same day as the council agreed to list it.
Punch said it will remain as a pub.