GUY ADAMS: Was Owen Paterson a greedy MP on the make... or tragically naive? 

GUY ADAMS: Was Owen Paterson a greedy MP on the make... or tragically naive? 
GUY ADAMS: Was Owen Paterson a greedy MP on the make... or tragically naive? 

Talking candidly about his ‘dedicated and loving’ wife Rose’s suicide on an episode of Women’s Hour, Owen Paterson hinted at a possible link between her inner turmoil and his sometimes bruising role on the political front line.

‘Of course, there are pressures in my life. She hated, hated, and became much more sensitive actually to Press criticism,’ he told the BBC’s Emma Barnett in April, ten months after her death.

‘We knew she was anxious… she was certainly anxious.’

Tory MP Owen Paterson has been suspended by the Common Standards Committee for 30 days

Tory MP Owen Paterson has been suspended by the Common Standards Committee for 30 days

The Tory MP expanded on this theme in more detail last month, via a heartfelt written statement to Parliament’s anti-sleaze committee.

The committee was considering whether he’d broken strict Commons rules by lobbying repeatedly for two Northern Irish companies that were, between them, paying him more than £100,000 per year.

One of the firms, Randox, had simultaneously been paying vast sums to sponsor the Grand National race at Aintree, where Rose, who he’d met at Cambridge and married 40 years earlier, happened to be chairman.

‘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,’ read Paterson’s letter to the Commons Standards Committee.

‘She thought it would carry on until it somehow found a punishment that forced me to resign as an MP.

'She would have to step down as Aintree chairman and from other senior racing positions.’

Yesterday, those words began to look eerily prescient after the Committee recommended suspending Paterson for 30 days.

Should MPs agree with the 173-page report’s findings, the 65-year-old former Northern Ireland and Defra minister can expect to face a recall petition giving his constituents in North Shropshire the right to force him out via a by-election.

Just such a process has in recent years been used to eject from Parliament such rotters as Fiona Onasanya, the Labour backbencher who was sent to prison for perverting the course of justice to escape a speeding fine, and Chris Davies, a Tory convicted of fiddling his expenses back in 2019.

Whether Paterson deserves to be mentioned in the same breath is a matter of opinion.

Talking candidly about his ‘dedicated and loving’ wife Rose’s suicide on an episode of Women’s Hour, Owen Paterson hinted at a possible link between her inner turmoil and his sometimes bruising role on the political front line

Talking candidly about his ‘dedicated and loving’ wife Rose’s suicide on an episode of Women’s Hour, Owen Paterson hinted at a possible link between her inner turmoil and his sometimes bruising role on the political front line 

To critics, this is an old-fashioned scandal: an MP on the make who repeatedly used his office, contacts book and even headed Commons notepaper to peddle influence for his commercial paymasters in a way that will massively undermine faith in Parliamentary democracy.

Supporters, along with Paterson himself, argue that he’s committed only minor technical breaches of arcane rules, and is being stitched up ‘without due process’ by an investigation that ‘did not comply with natural justice’ – and that those who passed judgment on him did so without knowing about, or seeking to properly establish, the full facts.

A third point of view is that Paterson – who is affectionately nicknamed ‘wooden top’ in Westminster for being pleasant but not overburdened by intellect – blundered his way into a mess that has had tragic and utterly unforeseeable consequences thanks to a mixture of carelessness and naivety.

To decide which version of events is correct – and it’s possible they may all be partly true – one must wind the clock back to 2015 when the MP was twiddling his thumbs after being sacked as Defra secretary on account of his allegedly poor handling of summer floods and the contentious issue of badger culling.

Late that year, he was hired as a ‘consultant’ by Randox, a medical firm that makes diagnostic equipment and tests, on a salary of £50,000 per year, for eight hours of work per month – or around £500 an hour.

The news attracted some controversy, since he’d dealt with the company in his ministerial role just a few years earlier when, as Northern Ireland Secretary, he’d pushed for corporation tax to be devolved to Belfast.

In 2017, Paterson also started being paid a further £4,000 every other month for ‘consultancy services’ by Lynn’s Country Foods Ltd, an artisanal venison and processed meat company.

That also looked a bit odd, since the appointment came shortly after he spoke in support of a bid by the firm to sue the World Health Organisation for branding British sausages ‘dangerous’ to public health.

Mr Paterson (left) with Randox MD Dr Peter Fitzgerald.  The former Cabinet Minister was hired as a ‘consultant’ by the firm in 2015

Mr Paterson (left) with Randox MD Dr Peter Fitzgerald.  The former Cabinet Minister was hired as a ‘consultant’ by the firm in 2015

‘I am a huge fan of the great British banger and I am fully behind Lynn’s call for a WHO public clarification,’ read a quote from Paterson that had been added to the firm’s press release.

‘I urge everyone go out and buy some quality British sausages.’

By then, Randox had decided to double the amount it was paying for his help, meaning that Mr Paterson’s remuneration from the two Ulster-based firms amounted to almost twice his Parliamentary salary.

The medical firm was also donating to his pro-Brexit think-tank UK2020, which in turn funded some of the MP’s trips abroad.

Cynics began to wonder what exactly these companies thought they might get for all that money.

Or if Paterson might be tempted to prioritise their interests over those of his constituents.

Fast forward to 2019, and a potential answer emerged via the front page of the Guardian newspaper.

It was reported that Paterson had actively lobbied ministers and senior public officials on account of the two firms on multiple occasions, using several meetings and a series of emails to encourage them to take steps that would benefit both Randox and Lynn’s.

Paterson had also repeatedly used his Commons office to conduct business for the companies and twice used House of Commons stationery to write to ministers on behalf of Randox.

Supporters, along with Paterson himself, argue that he’s committed only minor technical breaches of arcane rules, and is being stitched up ‘without due process’

Supporters, along with Paterson himself, argue that he’s committed only minor technical breaches of arcane rules, and is being stitched up ‘without due process’ 

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