Ex-NI secretary: If one family is spared our suicide anguish we’ll have done some good

Former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson has opened up about the loss of his wife to suicide – saying it has given him a new determination to try and make sure other families are spared the same pain.

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 8:00 am
Rose and Owen Paterson in happier times

His wife Rose had been successful and highly-regarded, and he said that her decision to take her own life had been “astonishing” to those who knew her.

Mr Paterson had been Northern Ireland secretary from May 2010 to September 2012 under David Cameron’s leadership, having spent the preceding three years as shadow secretary while Labour was in power.

He told the News Letter that far from spurring him towards retirement and the end of his political career, Rose’s death has given him a new cause into which he can invest his time and energy.

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Rose had been chairwoman of Aintree Racecourse, and had also managed Owen’s MP’s office (he had been elected seven times to represent North Shropshire).

She and her husband had three children, and she was also a grandmother. They had been married for 40 years.

Rose hanged herself after leaving home in Ellesmere, Shropshire, on June 24, and was discovered after the police mounted a search. It was her husband’s 64th birthday.

According to an article on the ConservativeHome website, her inquest had found that she had searched for ways of killing herself via Google three times before doing so.

She had left no note.

In reaching a verdict of suicide, the report quoted a coroner as saying Rose had a “previous history of anxiety and depression”.

Her suicide at age 64 was something which shocked the family profoundly.

“I’m being brutally frank in these interviews,” Mr Paterson told the News Letter last night.

“And very publicly saying that this can happen to anybody – however apparently well-placed in life, materially well-off, well-established with a successful career and everything else.

“It could happen to anyone. That’s what’s so astonishing for us.”

The Rose Paterson Trust, which he has now launched, has three main purposes: fundraise for bodies which do frontline anti-suicide work (like the Samaritans); collate research on the subject; and lobby for policy changes.

“We’d like to see a reduction in suicides,” he said.

“Our very simple aim is if we can help stop just one family going through the extreme anguish we are, and will continue to do for many years, we’ll have done some good.

“Quite encouragingly, we’ve already had a few calls to that effect.”

Asked whether the devastation of his loss may spur him into retirement after a long career in Parliament, he said: “No: I think the other way around. It’s given me a whole new area of activity.

“I’m vice-charman of the All-Party Group on Suicide and Self-Harm, I’m involved in drafting an online safety bill, so I’d say rather the opposite.”

Fundamentally, his message is this: “If you’re feeling anxious, please talk to someone. If it can help save just one family, we’ll have done some good.”

DIRE STATISTICS:

Official figures show NI is especially badly-hit by suicides when compared to the mainland UK.

The rate of suicides stood at 18.6 per 100,000 people in 2018, the most recent year for which firm official figures are available.

This compares to a rate of 16.1 in Scotland, 12.8 in Wales, and 10.3 in England.

In 2017 the pattern was similar, with a rate of 18.5 in Northern Ireland, 13,9 in Scotland, 13.2 in Wales, and 9.2 in England.

As is common across the world, males are far more likely to kill themselves than females.

In 2018, there were 79 female suicides in Northern Ireland, and 228 male ones.

The Samaritans provides 24/7 phonelines for people in despair or suicidal; ring 116 123 (calls are free and do not show up in your bill)

lLifeline is also a free 24/7 service, reachable on 0808 808 8000.

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