Shropshire Star

‘Watch your back’: Ex-standards commissioner tells of warning from Tory MP

Kathryn Stone, who was parliamentary commissioner for standards until the end of last year, described her bruising experience in the role.

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Committee on Standards

Parliament’s former standards watchdog said she was told “watch your back” by a Conservative MP, as she described her bruising experience in the role during the Owen Paterson scandal.

Kathryn Stone, who was parliamentary commissioner for standards until the end of last year, also spoke about being invited for a drink with MPs under investigation as she complained about efforts to attack and undermine the position.

The role has become increasingly high-profile following various controversies and scandals in recent years, with Ms Stone reflecting on the pressure she faced in the job amid the fallout of the Owen Paterson scandal.

In 2021, Ms Stone found the then-Conservative MP for North Shropshire breached the Commons code of conduct by lobbying ministers and officials for two companies paying him more than £100,000 per year.

“In the run-up to the amendment debate, there had been some incredibly personal attacks on me: my appearance; where I grew up; my education; the way I spoke. But also, more fundamentally, attacks on the standards system itself. This was a blatant attack to undermine the system by the people who wrote the rules, didn’t like them, and were ripping up the rule book to start again,” she told Channel 4 News.

“I was approached by a female Conservative MP who backed me into a corner and said: ‘You need to watch yourself; the knives are out for you; you just watch your back’. One interpretation is that she was offering friendly supportive advice; the other is that it was an attempt to intimidate me.

“It didn’t work.”

The Commons Standards Committee said Mr Paterson’s actions were an “egregious” breach of the rules on paid advocacy by MPs and recommended that he should be suspended for 30 sitting days.

Mr Paterson called the process “biased” and “not fair”, saying it had been a contributing factor in the suicide of his wife, Rose, and accusing the commissioner of making up her mind before she had even spoken to him.

Responding to that claim, Ms Stone said: “I have to say that was one of the darkest moments of my career as parliamentary commissioner for standards – to be a keystone or even that it be suggested that I have played a part in somebody deciding to take their own life is a terrible, terrible thing to be accused of.

“And intellectually, I know that’s not true. And I feel very sorry for the family and I am not responsible for that.”

Speaking more broadly about her time in the role, she said that people would “challenge authority and credibility” while also recalling being asked to go for coffee with an MP under investigation.

“I remember interviewing one Member of Parliament on allegations of sexual misconduct. During the discussion he asked me if I wanted to have coffee with him.

“When I asked ‘coffee?’, he said, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, lunch'.

“The coffee or the lunch wasn’t the issue, the issue was that this was an entirely inappropriate moment to be asking someone to have coffee or lunch with you, was probably why we were having the conversation in the first place.

“I’ve been invited out for a drink with people we were investigating – again, wholly inappropriate.

“One Member of Parliament said: ‘If only I had gone round to his house for dinner, we could have had a conversation and sorted it all out.’

“I’m afraid in the 21st century, conversations over drinks and dinner are not the way that proper investigative processes are carried out.”