‘We had no inkling whatever’ — Tory MP Owen Paterson discusses life after his wife’s suicide – POLITICO



It was June 23, 2020 when Owen Paterson’s life changed forever.

The Tory MP and former Cabinet minister was at his desk in the House of Commons when a family member called to say that Rose, his wife of 40 years, was missing from their home in rural Shropshire.

“I drove home with my eldest son as fast as we could, ” he tells this week’s episode of POLITICO’s Westminster Insider podcast.

“We were suggesting all sorts of ideas — she might have had a stroke; she might have had a heart attack; she might have had some strange respiratory collapse; she might have been strimming the wood and slipped and banged her head; she might have fallen in the brook … She might have been attacked. What we never, ever once suggested was what had actually happened.”

Rose Paterson was found dead in the early hours of the following morning, on her husband’s 64th birthday. There was no doubt that she had taken her own life.

“We had no inkling of this whatever,” Paterson said. “The thing we found very hard to cope with at the time was that she had a parallel, very active life.”

Rose was a successful businesswoman, and the chairwoman of Aintree racecourse. She was also a mother of three, and had been planning a trip to France with her daughter that same week.

“She had already bought the Eurostar ticket,” Paterson said. “So we found it very, very hard to understand that all these preparations had been taken. And there was a huge hoo-hah about the Eurostar ticket, because she wanted to get back — because I was deemed incapable of looking after myself, alone, for two weekends running.”

He has devoted much of the past year trying to understand why his wife chose to take her own life, and campaigning for greater suicide awareness.

“I think about it the whole time,” he said, “and my belief is that if from the horror that we are going through — we continue to go through — we can just help just one single family from going through the extreme anguish that we are, we will have done some good. And that’s why we’ve set up a charity, the Rose Paterson Trust, where we are currently raising money and we hope to help projects and charities which work to prevent suicide.

Paterson said around 6,500 people die each year at their own hand — the biggest cause of death in people under 35. “It’s [the equivalent of] 15 jumbo jets a year,” he said, “Now if you had 15 jumbo jets go down a year … there’d be a huge concerted effort to try to stop this. I do think we have to have a major national campaign.”

Paterson says he thinks many lives would be saved if employers and public bodies devoted more resources to suicide awareness training.

“I’m very clear every MP should do it; all the staff in an MPs’ office should do it; every newspaper editor should do it; every journalist should do it,” he says. “Every head of a company should do it; every head of a trades union should do it; every head of a charity should do it. And then it should cascade down.”

“Because we have this question every minute — how on earth didn’t we notice? Why didn’t we notice? We knew she was anxious about things, but we had no idea how intense that was. And going the other way — why on earth didn’t she tell us? If she’d told us a little bit of it, everything could have been so, so different.”

The impact upon his own life, of course, has been immense.

“Every day is bad,” he says. “Some days are terrible, and some days are really terrible. And strange things trigger it off. So two days after Rose died, my birthday present arrived — which was a couple of trees. And I went down the wood last night [to see one], it’s a wonderful Shropshire thorn. And that just sets you off. She’ll never see it. It’s stunning. It’s already flowering in its first year.”

If you’ve been affected by anything you’ve read in this article and want to speak to someone about your own situation in the U.K., you can call the Samaritans on 116 123. For similar services in other countries click here. And you can find more information about the Rose Paterson Trust at rosepatersontrust.com.



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