A prominent human rights lawyer has been accused of “brainwashing” schoolchildren after they took part in the mock trial of a Conservative MP over his family’s links to slavery.
Children from the All Saints Academy in Weymouth and The Woodroffe School in Lyme Regis were assigned the roles of prosecution and defence lawyers while others were split into three juries.
Mr Drax turned down an invitation to defend himself at the imitation court at Bridport Town Hall after he was charged with “benefitting from the proceeds of slavery” under the first “Generation on Trial” event.
Hosted by Mr Stafford Smith’s anti-injustice charity 3DCentre, the initiative gives young people the chance to put politicians accused of crimes of “messing up the world” for their generation in the fictional dock.
Future trials on issues surrounding Brexit, climate change and immigration are being planned in due course.
Following Mr Drax’s refusal to participate, a thespian was drafted in to play the role of the MP under instructions to respond to questioning how he thought he would answer.
Education campaigners criticised the event, arguing it lacks impartiality and risks “brainwashing” schoolchildren.
Chris McGovern, a retired headteacher and the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: “I do not think school children should be putting anyone on trial. This is an example of out-of-control brainwashing and it should not be allowed as schools are duty bound to be impartial and not have an agenda.”
Mr Stafford Smith, who has defended detainees at Guantanamo Bay, stood by the trial following the criticism.
He said: “I think the younger generation should be angry because a lot of them don’t understand how their chances in life have been diminished by my generation.”
All three juries found Mr Drax “guilty as charged”, although they dismissed a second count that he “had acted like his ancestors while performing his role as MP”.
Mr Drax, 63, has previously described his ancestors’ links with the slave trade as “deeply regrettable” but that no one can be held responsible today for what happened hundreds of years ago.
Worth an estimated £150 million, the Tory backbencher owns the Drax Hall sugar plantation in Barbados. His ancestors ran the same plantation about 400 years ago and used slave labour. Mr Drax declined to comment on the mock trial.