A multimillionaire MP who enjoys a Downton Abbey lifestyle funded by historical family links to the slave trade has failed to publish accounts for four of his five companies since 2009, in potential breach of company law.
The Observer and Sunday Mirror revealed in December that Richard Drax was worth an estimated £150m, but had not declared ownership of a Barbados sugar plantation in his register of members’ interests declaration.
Now Drax, the Conservative MP for South Dorset, is having to produce more than a decade’s worth of missing accounts, which reveal hundreds of thousands of pounds of business transactions.
Four months ago we revealed that Drax’s interests declaration was littered with omissions and errors. He had not declared inheriting his family’s 621-acre sugar plantation in Barbados, where from 1640 to 1838 his family used slaves to make huge profits in terrible conditions. Drax told us he had not declared the plantation as it was still in probate after his father died in 2017.
He had also not declared an estate in Swaledale, North Yorkshire and that he owned a £4.4m holiday let on Sandbanks – one of the most expensive areas for property in the UK.
In the new year, an amended register was published that included missing holdings. Campaigners have demanded that Drax pay reparations to Barbados for the damage inflicted by his ancestors on enslaved people forced to work on their plantations.
The Director of the Good Law Project, Jolyon Maugham, said, “Having been found out for failing properly to declare his vast wealth, including a sugar plantation in Barbados, to his constituents Richard Drax has now all but admitted he has also breached company law. What else is there? Perhaps, to him, it doesn’t matter. Perhaps, like so many titans of this government, he thinks laws are for the little people.”
Yesterday Drax admitted the accounts were missing and blamed his accountants for failing to file them to Companies House.
A hardline Brexiter, the Harrow-educated Drax, 63 – full name Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax – is a rising star in the right wing of the Conservative party, and has repeatedly opposed extending lockdown restrictions.
The former Coldstream Guards officer and BBC journalist owns a 14,000-acre estate, the largest in Dorset, which is noted for its three-mile-long brick wall running alongside one of county’s major roads. Drax also owns some 125 Dorset properties personally or through family trusts. The estate’s finances have mostly been hidden from public scrutiny and involve at least six family trusts and as many financial entities.
When Drax amended his register entry in January and correctly named the companies he owns, which relate to his farming interests – he grows poppies to make morphine for the NHS and barley for craft brewers – there were still problems. Four of the companies had not provided any accounts in the last decade. As both of his unlimited companies were subsidiaries of a limited company, under section 448 of the Companies Act 2006 they all should have submitted accounts annually.
Concerns about a section 448 breach were raised with Companies House in late January. Over the last two weeks, some 50 documents from the four companies have appeared on the Companies House website, including a decade’s worth of missing accounts. Two limited companies, said to have been dormant from 2009, are now shown to have been active. The unlimited companies have now filed accounts, showing in some years hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of financial activity. All had been approved by Drax annually as late as November 2020.
Alex Cobham, the chief executive of the Tax Justice Network, pointed out that under the Companies Act it was an offence for a person “knowingly or recklessly to make a statement that is misleading, false or deceptive in a material particular”, with potential penalties including imprisonment.
He said: “Mis-registering companies with sometimes very substantial assets or transactions as ‘dormant’ would certainly appear to be material. For an outside observer, it is difficult to see how this error could have been made for multiple companies and over the course of so many years, in a way that was neither knowing nor reckless – so an explanation from Mr Drax is badly needed.”
Carralyn Parkes, who stood against Drax for Labour in the 2019 election, said: “South Dorset has high levels of child poverty, a housing crisis caused by a lack of affordable homes for rent, and many of our hardworking families are struggling to make ends meet in this harsh economic climate – I am sure that they would be able to tell you how much money they have, and where every penny came from.”
A spokesman for Drax said: “Richard was made aware on 5 February of omissions in the Companies House filings in relation to the unlimited companies Abbot’s Court Farm (Charborough) and Anderson Manor Farm. He had quite reasonably relied upon his accountants to whom he had delegated full responsibility to file the necessary accounts and, when he was made aware of the unintended omission, he instructed his accountants to immediately rectify the position. All of the required information was sent to Companies House on 12 February, that is within a week of the issue having been identified.”