A Tory MP has finally admitted to Parliament he owns a former slave plantation where his family made millions.
Richard Drax registered the details as the Sunday Mirror revealed his ancestors’ past – and how he still makes a money from the business.
The Drax Hall Plantation in Barbados was added to the Register of Members’ Interests on December 11 – days after we told the MP we were running a story.
An updated register was published over Christmas, revealing an apparent scramble to declare father-of-four Mr Drax’s previously unregistered business interests.
He also added other assets we highlighted as missing, including land in North Yorkshire and property in Dorset and in Surrey.
On December 13 we told how the MP for South Dorset had taken control of the 250-hectare sugar plantation, which had a slave workforce from 1640-1836.
It was revealed he is the wealthiest landowner in the Commons – and worth as much as £150million through a series of trusts.
Campaigners demanded Mr Drax, 62, pay reparations for harm caused by his family’s slave trade.
Sir Hilary Beckles, chair of the Caribbean Community Reparations Commission and vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, said: “People of Barbados and Jamaica are entitled to reparatory justice.
“Black life mattered only to make millionaires of English enslavers. The Drax family did it longer than any elite family.”
There is precedence for compensating descendants of slaves. Oxford and Glasgow universities gave £100,000 and £20million respectively to Caribbean counterparts after it emerged they received donations linked to slavery.
Ex-Lib Dem leader Vince Cable said: “I hope the recently further-enriched Mr Drax pays some attention to polite representations from the Caribbean Community Reparations Commission.
“He could donate his inheritance to the island on which it stands and still have plenty of property left.”
Richard Drax was gifted the plantation by his father.
Mr Drax – who has described his ancestors’ slavery role as “deeply, deeply regrettable” – said: “I have updated my entries to include the property in Barbados, although that disclosure is not necessary until it has been legally transferred to me.
“In reviewing the entries I realised an agricultural property transferred from my mother to me after my father’s death had not been included on the register.
“My parents died in short succession and administration of both estates is ongoing.
“The process has been complicated, which led to this accidental oversight.”
While today’s workers toil in the heat, aristocrat Mr Drax, 62, lives 4,000 miles away in his family’s ancestral seat.
Charborough Park is bordered by the “Great Wall of Dorset”, a three-mile boundary made up of three million bricks.
He holds the lordship of the manor of Longburton and is the largest individual landowner in Dorset, with 13,870 acres.
Documents from Barbados Companies House show he registered the Drax Hall plantation business this year in his full name – Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax –and pays tax due on the property personally.
One ex-worker claimed bonuses for retiring staff had dried up in recent times. Father-of-five Clement Simpson, 72, said: “They used to give a little extra to the people who had retired. But nothing last few years. I ain’t had nothing. I don’t think the rest of the retired people are getting any either.”
A current worker said: “People in agriculture endure low wages and do the hardest work. It’s hard work and it ain’t easy. You get to work when the rain falls and you get to work when the sun is hot.”
The imposing plantation house, Drax Hall was built around 1650, 20 years or so after James and William Drax sailed to Barbados to make a fortune. It is the oldest house in the Western hemisphere.
The family owned enslaved people in Barbados from the mid 17th century and later expanded its empire to Jamaica.
Some five million enslaved people were taken to the Caribbean. Deaths ran into millions. There is no specific mention of poor treatment at the hands of the Drax family. After slavery was abolished in 1836 the family lost 189 workers but received £3million compensation, at today’s rate, from the UK government.
Mr Drax has denied responsibility for his ancestors’ actions. When elected in 2010 he told the Mirror: “I can’t be held responsible for something 300 or 400 years ago. They are using the class thing and that’s not what this election is about, it’s not what I stand for and I ignore it.”
But Sir Hilary, chair of the CARICOM Reparations Commission and Vice Chancellor of the University of West Indies, said the MP had a duty to repair the damage done by slavery.
He estimated 30,000 enslaved people had died in Barbados and Jamaica due to the Drax family trade. He said: “When I drive through Drax Hall land I feel a sense of being in a massive killing field with unmarked cemeteries. Sugar and Black Death went hand in glove.
“It’s no answer for Richard Drax to say it has nothing to do with him when he is the owner and inheritor. They should pay reparations.”
He said slave-owning families were “criminally enriched” and lived on “the criminal proceeds”.
David Comissiong, Barbados ambassador to CARICOM, said: “This was a crime against humanity and we impose upon him and his family a moral responsibility to contribute to the effort to repair the damage.
“You can’t simply walk away from the scene of the crime. They have a responsibility now to make some effort to help repair the damage.”
TV presenter and historian David Olusoga said: “From the very early stages of the family’s involvement in slavery and the sugar trade, the Drax dynasty were able to generate extraordinary wealth through the cultivation of sugar grown by enslaved Africans.”
Father-of-four Mr Drax faced criticism in 2009 from political rivals for “hiding his aristocratic roots” by not using his quadruple-barrelled name.
The ex-Army officer, who worked as a BBC journalist, makes money from renting property and in 2016 voted against legislation that would outlaw homes unfit for human habitation. He owns some 125 Dorset properties personally or through family trusts.
He has a £4.5million holiday villa on Sandbanks, which is rented out at almost £7,000 a week in peak season.
His first wife was Zara Legge-Bourke – younger sister of former royal nanny Tiggy. Second wife Eliza was the daughter of Navy Commander James Dugdale – a relative of ex-PM David Cameron. His current wife is Norwegian-born Elsebet Bødtker.
Mr Drax has voted against climate change steps, equality legislation and same sex marriage. He opposed tax rises for top earners and a bankers’ levy, but backed lower corporate taxes.
He also supported lower welfare benefits, ending educational financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds and the “bedroom tax” on council tenants.
News of the secrecy surrounding his wealth comes after it emerged the wife of Chancellor Rishi Sunak has shares in a £430million business empire.
MPs who have spelt out details of overseas interests include Labour ’s Lyn Brown, who declared “a half share in a commercial property in Munich”. Ex-Labour MP Shaun Woodward wrote: “I own properties in France, New York State and the West Indies from which rental income is received.”
Parliamentary rules say members must register land which has “a value of more than £100,000; or forms part of a total property portfolio whose value exceeds £100,000; and/or provides rental income of more than £10,000 in a calendar year”.
Entries must include property type, location and when acquired. Mr Drax’s entry states he owns “woodlands, farmland, residential and commercial property, including land used for renewable energy projects in Dorset”.