Former Tory Cabinet minister Owen Paterson has said his wife killed herself because she feared they would both be destroyed by ‘erroneous’ claims that he was involved in a political scandal.
The claim by the MP for North Shropshire is in a highly emotional statement made by him last month to Parliament’s anti-sleaze watchdog, the contents of which have been leaked to the Daily Mail.
A coroner delivered a suicide verdict after Rose Paterson, 63, chairman of Aintree Racecourse, home of the Grand National, died in June last year. After her death, Mr Paterson said he had ‘no inkling’ his ‘dedicated and loving’ wife planned to take her life and he has been praised for campaigning for more action to curb suicides.
However, this newspaper has learnt that the MP has told an investigation into his £100,000- a-year job as a parliamentary consultant for a health company that he has ‘no doubt’ that the ‘cruel’ inquiry ‘played a huge role’ in her suicide.
Mr Paterson denies breaking Commons rules by lobbying on behalf of Randox Health and says the inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards left his wife ‘distraught’. She thought it was ‘determined to find him guilty’ and feared he would have to resign as an MP.
Former Tory Cabinet minister Owen Paterson with his wife Rose Paterson, who died on July 24 last year
She also believed it would force her to resign as head of Aintree, where the Grand National is sponsored by Randox, because of the couple’s shared connection with its polo-playing multi-millionaire boss, Dr Peter FitzGerald.
Mrs Paterson, like her husband an expert horse rider, was ‘alarmed we would both end our lives humiliated and disgraced’, Mr Paterson has told the inquiry.
In a heartfelt plea, the former Northern Ireland secretary said: ‘If I am found guilty without due process, my political enemies will crow that my wife was a proper person and killed herself when she was told I had broken the rules when I have not done so.
‘No one will know for sure why my wife hanged herself. But my family and I are in no doubt that the way this investigation has been conducted played a massive role in creating the extreme anxiety which led to her suicide.’
The inquiry had had a ‘catastrophic effect’ on his family. His wife was ‘severely rattled’ the moment it was launched in 2019, he said.
‘She thought it would carry on until it somehow found a punishment that forced me to resign as an MP,’ he added. ‘She would have to step down as Aintree chairman and from other senior racing positions.’
Mr Paterson complained that he was ‘condemned on all counts’ by the investigation from the outset and denied a fair hearing.
He strenuously denies any wrongdoing or failing to declare an interest in Randox. He said his work for the firm made milk and ham products safer and ‘did a real public good’.
Randox won a £133million Government contract to supply Covid testing kits in April last year. This was not part of the inquiry.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone is expected to rule soon on whether Mr Paterson’s work for Randox breached the code of conduct for MPs.
Mrs Paterson at Aintree with Dr Peter Fitzgerald, the managing director of Randox health, on April 12, 2018
His statement has a hard-hitting message for MPs on the standards committee who will decide what action, if any, should be taken against him: ‘I hope none of you has gone through the extreme pain caused by the suicide of a loved one.’
Mrs Paterson, the daughter of Viscount Ridley, was dragged into the row last year by a report linking her and Baroness Dido Harding, who ran the Government’s Covid test and trace system, to the decision to allow horse racing to be one of the first sports to resume after the first lockdown.
It also made a connection between them and the then health secretary Matt Hancock, the MP for Newmarket, where the Jockey Club is based, and said Mr Hancock ‘receives thousands of pounds in donations from racehorse owners... and the sport’s establishment’.
Timeline to tragedy
2015: Owen Paterson joins Randox as a consultant.
2016: Mr Paterson writes to Priti Patel, then international development secretary, asking for a meeting to discuss Randox products.
2017: Randox sponsors Grand National at Aintree, chaired by Mrs Paterson.
October 30, 2019: Parliamentary inquiry into Mr Paterson’s Randox links begins.
June 2020: Mr Paterson receives memo from inquiry. He says it is ‘full of errors’.
June 2020: Media reports highlight Mr and Mrs Paterson’s connections to Randox.
June 24, 2020: Mrs Paterson is found dead.
The report also pointed out that Mrs Paterson ran Aintree where ‘the Grand National is sponsored by Randox, the company advised by her husband and given a £133million Covid testing kit contract – without other firms being given the opportunity to bid’.
On June 24, she was found dead near the couple’s home in Shropshire.
Months after Mrs Paterson died, The Times ran a report headlined ‘Did Grand National provide inside track to Covid contracts?’
It linked Mr Paterson’s ‘horse riding friend’ Dr FitzGerald to Mrs Paterson, Baroness Harding, her ex-Northern Ireland minister husband John Penrose and Mr Hancock.
Asked about ‘this network’, Dr FitzGerald, a Northern Irish businessman, replied: ‘We didn’t know all these people knew each other,’ The Times reported.
Mr Paterson, who was married for 40 years, has set up the Rose Paterson Trust to raise money for suicide prevention projects.
The parliamentary inquiry into the MP is focused on his lobbying for Randox; whether he declared the interest; whether he wrongly used Commons headed notepaper; damaging Parliament’s reputation.
It did not involve the Randox Covid testing contract or Mrs Paterson’s Aintree link with the company.
The inquiry is continuing and is expected to make its findings shortly. No suggestion of wrongdoing was ever levelled at Mrs Paterson.
Mr Paterson said last night: ‘This is still subject to parliamentary privilege and therefore confidential so I cannot comment.’
Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Miss Stone declined to comment.
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