A former Conservative MP has apologised “for the acts of my ancestors” after an academic named her as a descendant of a merchant with links to the slave trade.
On Thursday, Antoinette Sandbach had threatened to sue the University of Cambridge over an online TED Talk given by Malik Al Nasir. On Friday she said she had raised the matter with the university over concerns for her personal safety, but that she did not object to being linked to a history “that is absolutely there”.
Sandbach said she only learned about her family history three months ago. “We have to look at the ongoing consequences of what we have done as a country. And of course, I apologise for the acts of my ancestors,” she told Times Radio. “I’m not responsible for them, but I accept that it was wrong and when we look at it today, it’s horrific.”
She added that she was “struggling with a history that for me is very difficult” and would change the past if she could.
Al Nasir, a PhD history student at St Catharine’s College, said in a TEDx Talk video in 2021 that Sandbach was a descendant of Samuel Sandbach, who was in a partnership that traded with the West Indies and enslaved his ancestors.
The poet and author, who has spent the past 20 years exploring his family’s history of slavery, discovered that his ancestors were enslaved in plantations in the former colony of British Guiana, now known as Guyana, during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Al Nasir claims a substantial amount of the wealth from plantation slavery was brought to Liverpool by Sandbach and his business partners, the same city the academic grew up in.
It is understood that Sandbach, the former MP for Eddisbury in Cheshire, believes the mention of her name violated her right to privacy and that she had been singled out as a politician.
She said: “I don’t object to Malik Al Nasir or Cambridge linking me to a history that is absolutely there. The issue is about my personal safety. So I had numerous death threats. I mean, lots of people were cautioned and one ex-police officer was convicted for threatening to kill me.”
Sandbach confirmed that she would be taking a complaint forward to the information commissioner.
The Guardian reported on Thursday that the former Tory MP threatened the University of Cambridge with legal action after she was named in the Ted Talk.
Sandbach complained the talk claimed she lived in Wales, when she no longer lived there. She also said she had a right to be forgotten as she was no longer a public figure.
St Catharine’s College previously said: “St Catharine’s is absolutely committed to upholding freedom of speech and ensuring all of our students, including Malik Al Nasir, are able to freely pursue their scholarly interests by providing access to academic, pastoral and – where possible – financial support throughout their studies.”
The University of Cambridge said: “This is an ongoing legal matter and so we are unable to comment.”