3DC’s inaugural mock trial, as part of the Generation on Trial series, featured South Dorset MP Richard Drax, on the charge of “benefitting from the proceeds of slavery”.
26 students from Woodroffe School in Lyme Regis, and All Saints School in Weymouth converged to act as jurors in the trial which was designed to explore how Drax’s wealth was initially derived from slavery in the Caribbean.
The prosecution was led by former Woodroffe student Clara Douglas, who is now studying law at Cambridge. Lead defence counsel was 17-year old Ben Sheridan of the Kings School in Ottery St Mary. ‘Judge’ Stafford Smith presided, assisted by his clerk, Colfox School’s Eddie Rose. Unfortunately, though invited to attend, Drax himself did not appear and there was no response from his office. The proceedings were recorded by local filmmaker Eric Harwood and five of his young filmmaking apprentices
1: Benefitting from the proceeds of slavery
2: A failure to respect the rights of minorities in his work as MP
The Case for the Prosecution
The prosecution led off with Bijan Omrani, of Shute, who appeared as an expert witness on the history of slavery. He testified to the extraordinary ‘rules’ the Drax family created to maximise the profits they made from slaves. He was forced to concede on cross-examination that the family of Queen Elizabeth II has benefitted from money derived from slavery as much or more than Drax.
Kammy Singh, law student daughter of local physician Richa, impersonated a Nobel prize winning medical doctor, and testified to how the descendants of slaves, who still work on Drax’s plantation in Barbados, suffer disproportionately from a number of illnesses like Diabetes-2 that can be traced directly to the amount of sugar in their diets.
The final prosecution witness was Carralyn Parkes, a Labour councillor, whose constituency included many of the All Saints students, and who linked the Drax family history to the themes in her own unsuccessful campaign to unseat him as MP in the last general election.
The Case for the Defence
The defence began with local thespian Georgina Coombs, who played a ‘wealth manager’ defending Drax’s right to inherit riches and use any legal means available to do so.
As Drax had not responded to the invitation to participate, Symondsbury’s Sir Philip Colfox, who attended school with the ‘accused’, gamely stepped in and did his best to channel the role.
There was an hour and a half of jury deliberations at the LSi with all but one of the 26 jurors convicting Drax on the first ‘charge’ of “benefitting from the proceeds of slavery”.
They found it more difficult, however, to evaluate the second ‘charge’ framed by the students as “a failure to respect the rights of minorities in his work as MP”. One jury convicted him and the other two were unable to reach unanimous verdicts.
Bridport Mayor Ian Bark attended some of the day and spoke glowingly to the students at their lunch break expressing the hope that the day would inspire them to get ever more involved in local politics.
All Saints Teacher Kitty Forrester:
“The trial was proof that if you set these young people up for success, they will dazzle, and they did. Year 8s were asking questions of witnesses, they were listening to the evidence and they went to great pains to consider their verdict from all angles. All of our students came away feeling invested in and a part of something important. As a history teacher, I was excited to see our students grapple with the past and understand how the past informs and shapes our present.”
Student jurors who volunteered to be part of the day:
” It was an amazing experience, like nothing I’ve ever done before; I really enjoyed experiencing a trial” (year 8 student)
“The trial was an amazing opportunity and extremely inspiring to be a part of” (Year 10 student)
“I feel privileged to have taken part in this project, it was interesting and thought provoking and I enjoyed listening to the witnesses” (year 9 student)
“It was so professionally organised and a great experience that helped me learn a lot about Mr Drax and how a court room works” (year 11 student)
Eric Harwood, Heart and Soul Films, Charmouth
“This was a great experience for me and all my young team too. We are looking to develop all the material into a short education film, as well as a piece highlighting the great work of the 3DC. Though there are some participants who want their families to watch the full eight hours.”
3DC’s Clive Stafford Smith, ‘Judge’
“This was, of course, all fiction but it was based on very significant moral issues, and the students engaged with it all in a fabulous way. The ‘lawyers’ picked three juries and then presented various witnesses on all sides of the issues. I could not believe that students aged between 12 and 17 could hang in there for eight hours. I never saw a single yawn.”