London – The wife of former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson was found dead in woods behind their home on Wednesday – on his 64th birthday.
Family members had mounted a midnight search for 63-year-old Rose Paterson and a force helicopter was called in before the shock discovery.
Hours earlier she had appeared in good spirits when greeting neighbours while out on her horse. Mrs Paterson, chairman of Aintree racecourse and daughter of the fourth Viscount Ridley, rode regularly in the woods where she was found.
Police said there was no suggestion of “third-party involvement” in her death but the wider circumstances remained unclear on Wednesday night.
Mr Paterson, who served as Northern Ireland secretary and environment secretary under David Cameron, is Tory MP for North Shropshire. He said in a statement: “”It is with great sadness that I must inform you that my wife, Rose, has been found dead at our family home.
“Rose and I were married for 40 happy years. She was a wonderful, caring wife, mother and grandmother. Her death has come as a terrible shock to us all.”
Married in 1980, the couple had two sons, Felix, 33, and Ned, 31, and a daughter, Evie, 28. It is thought the brothers were at the family’s estate outside Ellesmere in North Shropshire when the alarm was raised. Mr Paterson was in London.
The family’s close neighbour Richard Clubbe, a 72-year-old retired policeman, said he saw several officers with torches searching for Mrs Paterson at around midnight on Tuesday.
“There were police cars driving up and down and the police helicopter was also up,” he said. “They told me someone was missing. I’ve known the Patersons for 36 years, before Owen became an MP. They moved in around the same time as us.
“They own a lot of land, they have around a mile-and-a-half stretch of woodland. Mrs Paterson was very hands on, she looked after the wood, strimming and taking care of it. They also had horses and she used to ride with her daughter through the woods. It’s such a tragedy.”
Another neighbour said they had exchanged greetings with Mrs Paterson on Tuesday afternoon on Pant Lane, close to where her body was later found.
The MP’s wife, a former Daily Telegraph art critic, was also on the board of the Jockey Club.
Hours before her death, one of the club’s development projects prompted further scrutiny over the role of Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.
It was reported that he had used his ministerial planning powers to call in an appeal it made to build 318 homes and a hotel at Sandown Park racecourse in Surrey.
Mr Jenrick is already embroiled in a “cash for favours” row over his approval of Tory donor Richard Desmond’s plan for 1 500 homes in east London.
That decision came two months after the minister sat next to the billionaire at a Tory fundraiser.
The Jockey Club’s board includes Baroness Harding, the Tory peer in charge of the Government’s Covid-19 tracing app, and Peter Stanley, who last year gave £5 000 to Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s constituency office in Newmarket, Suffolk, home to the club.
Mr Jenrick told the Commons on Wednesday that allegations regarding his involvement in the club’s development project at Sandown Park were ‘inaccurate’.
He said it “was a decision taken by another planning minister and upon which I knew none of the facts until it was incorrectly reported”. News of Mrs Paterson’s death came a day after it was revealed that Liam Treadwell, a Grand National-winning jockey, had died at his home in Billingsley, at the other end of Shropshire.
Treadwell, 34, rode Mon Mome to victory at Aintree at odds of 100/1 in 2009, one of his 300 race wins. Police are treating his death as unexplained but said there was no third-party involvement.
Mrs Paterson was appointed chairman of Aintree – home of the Grand National – in 2014, having been a racecourse committee director at the Liverpool racecourse since 2005. She was appointed a steward of the Jockey Club in 2019.
Sandy Dudgeon, its senior steward, described Mrs Paterson as a wonderful person, adding: “She was a skilled chairman at Aintree, a valued member of our board of stewards and headed up our horse welfare group. She also enjoyed participating at grassroots level over many years.
“We appreciated her contribution very much and my fellow stewards and I looked forward to hearing her sound views on a subject, where she was always sensitive to the best course of action for racing. She will be missed greatly for the person she was.”
West Mercia Police confirmed the body of a woman was found in woodland near Ellesmere, adding: “The death is currently being treated as unexplained however at this stage there is believed to be no third-party involvement.”
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister heard the news this morning and has written to Owen. His thoughts and every sympathy are with Owen, his children and grandchildren at this difficult time.”