Owen Paterson interview: Four months on and devastation over wife's death simply gets worse

"Nothing, absolutely nothing, justifies taking your own life," Owen Paterson tells the Shropshire Star in his first interview since the death of his wife Rose.

MP Owen Paterson, with his wife Rose picture behind him
MP Owen Paterson, with his wife Rose picture behind him

Owen Paterson sits in the study at his home in north Shropshire that he and his wife, Rose, shared, her photo beside him.

Her desk is as it was the day she died, her files for her beloved Aintree racecourse neatly stacked up to deal with, notes preparing for a family meal alongside.

The MP’s desk next to his wife’s contains the usual constituency work – alongside books and papers on suicide.

Four months ago Rose Paterson walked out of the house to the beautiful woods on their land, the woods that she loved, and took her own life.

“We had been together for 45 years and married for 40. She was my best friend and I don’t think that I have even begun to take in what has happened,” Mr Paterson says.

“She was a major figure in the racing industry and she played such a big role in many charities and trusts, such as Weston Park. This year alone she raised £35,000 for the Horatio’s Garden project for patients with spinal injuries at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital.

“She was so well liked, so full of life.”

A large box in the study is full of letters of sympathy from across the UK, testament to the regard in which Mrs Paterson was held.

“We have been completely swamped and the kind words that people write are very difficult to read. We have had amazing support both in north Shropshire and from colleagues in the Commons.”

Owen and Rose Paterson pictured at home in 2018

The family is at a loss to understand Mrs Paterson’s decision to end her life. There was absolutely no warning of what she was going to do.

“It has had a catastrophic effect. Rose will never see her grandchildren grow up, she will never know how much she was loved, how well she was regarded.

“Four months after Rose’s death the total devastation and appalling anguish gets no better, it simply gets worse,” he says.

When it became clear that she was missing from home on the evening of June 23, the MP rang the police then drove the 195 miles home to Shropshire.

“In my head I went through every possible scenario that could have happened – a heart attack or a stroke, maybe she had tripped and fallen. A branch could have fallen on her or maybe she had even slipped and gone into the brook and drowned. Not once did I contemplate suicide as the reason for Rose’s disappearance.”

When she was found he said he insisted on seeing her, still not believing that she had taken her life.

Mr Paterson thanked West Mercia Police and the search and rescue volunteers who found his wife’s body for their search through the night and the coroner, Mr John Ellery and his officer, Julie Hartridge for the way the inquest into her death was conducted.

“Mr Ellery tells me that he has had 39 inquests this year in which people have taken their own lives, an increase on the previous year.”

The MP says that the national suicide figures are grim reading with the Samaritans saying that there were 5,691 suicides in England and Wales in 2019, 321 more than the year before.

“That is 16 people taking their lives every day.”

Owen and Rose Paterson taking part in the the Mongol Derby endurance horse race

He now fears that the coronavirus and lockdown restrictions will have such an effect on mental health that 2020 and future years could see those figures increase further.

Mr Paterson says: “There is tremendous work taking place in Shropshire thanks to Shropshire Mind and the Telford and Wrekin and Shropshire Suicide Prevention Network. Anything I can do to help I will. I will also be taking this nationally to look at suicide prevention strategies and how the government can help and how the appalling websites on suicide with their horribly inviting language can be dealt with.”

Mr Paterson has ensured that his constituency work as an MP has continued.

“I have a team of three staff, who have worked tirelessly including Claire who has worked for me for 19 years and worked closely with Rose.”

He has also had some local meetings about major constituency issues while, in parliament, Mr Paterson has had a proxy vote.

And he has also begun to start work on researching suicide and what he sees as a major and ever increasing mental health epidemic that, he says is only going to worsen because of Covid.

“Suicide is now the leading cause of premature mortality in men younger than 50 – and another shocking statistic is that one in 20 suicide attempts succeed, which means there are far more people in the frame of mind that they try to take their own life.

“There are very obvious issues that can lead to suicide: alcohol, drugs, money problems, losing a job and marital breakdowns and well as ongoing mental health.

“But there are also people like Rose who have none of those issues and who have given absolutely no outward indication of their intention.”

During his research the MP is looking into the possible effects of Covid on mental health.

Owen Paterson is the Conservative MP for North Shropshire

Both he and his wife contracted coronavirus at the beginning of the lockdown and, while he was ill for some weeks, physically she recovered far more quickly.

However he wonders if the virus had an unseen effect on her mental health.

“Rose didn’t do being ill and with the family at home she rallied round and seemed to get better far sooner than I did.

“But ongoing research into the virus shows that, while it has a bigger, physical effect on men, women are disproportionately affected neurologically. Some it seems have had mini strokes and others behavioural changes.”

Rose Paterson was the chairman of Aintree Racecourse

Mr Paterson fears that the ever-increasing Covid restrictions could also see the suicide rate increase.

“The last lockdown was in glorious weather when people could get outside, this is going to be a very grim winter and it could have a very serious impact on mental health.

“This is why it is even more important that, if you are feeling in the least bit down or unhappy, tell someone. Tell your family or a friend, tell a teacher or a work colleague.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing justifies taking your own life. I read a book that says, that the last thing you should do when you are feeling suicidal, is kill yourself.

“I have talked to a lot of people, those who have lost close family or friends to suicide and to those who have made attempts on their own life.

“One family told me that 40 years on from their son’s death they have not got over it.”

He says he completely understands why.

“It is the finality of everything. Having to cancel bank accounts or subscriptions, seeing the leaves drop from the trees and knowing she won’t see the new leaves grow in the spring.

“It is waking to a beautiful day and knowing that she can’t enjoy it.

“If I can do something to stop one person ending their life, one family having to endure the anguish, it will be worthwhile.”

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