Kathryn Stone: who is watchdog at heart of Owen Paterson row?

Much of the anger among Conservative MPs keen to overturn the verdict against their colleague Owen Paterson has been focused on the independent parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone.

They argue that her approach is high-handed, and her investigations “amateurish”, in the words of one Paterson ally, the former Brexit secretary David Davis. But her supporters insist this criticism just reflects Stone’s determination to take on vested interests.

Employed by parliament, rather than the government, to safeguard independence, Stone is the sixth commissioner since the post was created in 1995. She has previously published highly critical reports on the behaviour of the former Labour MP Keith Vaz and the DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr.

If Stone decides a sufficiently serious breach of the rules on MPs’ conduct has taken place she can refer the case to parliament’s committee on standards, which is chaired by the Labour MP Chris Bryant.

Stone picked up responsibility for the Vaz inquiry, involving claims that he had procured drugs for sex workers, from her predecessor Kathryn Hudson.

When that inquiry reported, resulting in a six-month suspension for Vaz, then the MP for Leicester East, she complained he had “failed, repeatedly, to answer direct questions, given incomplete answers and his account [had], in parts, been incredible”, underlining her willingness to be tough with MPs where necessary.

More recently she announced she would be reviewing the MPs’ code of conduct to reflect their use of Twitter and other social media, saying in her annual report: “I have been surprised at the way some MPs express their views and opinions on social media.” She opened 26 inquiries between 2020 and 2021, 11 of those on her own initiative, and the rest after cases were referred to her.

Stone was born in Derby and went to school in nearby Belper before taking a degree in sociology and a masters in women’s studies at Loughborough University. She has a long history of tackling politically contentious issues. She previously served as the commissioner for victims and survivors in Northern Ireland, with the delicate task of tackling the legacy of the Troubles.

Stone was also a commissioner for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, overseeing investigations, including into the Rotherham force’s failure to tackle child sex abuse.

She began her working life caring for children with disabilities and went on to run the charity Voice UK, which represents people with disabilities who have experienced crime or abuse. She was given an OBE in 2007.

In her current post – and perhaps most relevantly, given Downing Street’s interest in the Paterson case – Stone has found herself investigating the prime minister’s personal finances.

She found against him over a free holiday he took in Mustique courtesy of a Tory donor, because he “did not make sufficient inquiries to establish the full facts about the funding arrangements for his free accommodation, either before his holiday, as he should have done, or in 2020”. However, Bryant’s committee subsequently sought additional information from the prime minister and the donor in question, the Carphone Warehouse founder, David Ross, and concluded Johnson had correctly declared the luxury stay.

Johnson is known to have been irked by the investigation into the funding of his 2019 Christmas holiday, which was one of a series into his financial affairs; they included one by the new ministerial standards watchdog, Lord Geidt, into the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, an issue the Electoral Commission has subsequently been examining.

Geidt’s predecessor Sir Alex Allan resigned after the government disregarded his finding that the home secretary, Priti Patel, had breached the ministerial code over bullying allegations.

Stone, who began the job in January 2018, is due to serve a five-year term.

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