THE family of former Bournemouth East MP David Atkinson have claimed he led a secret life which included a string of affairs with men.
David Atkinson represented the town for almost three decades until 2005, and was widely regarded as dedicated and hard-working MP.
But more than two years after his death, his wife has spoken about discovering his string of affairs, while his son has claimed he was “predatory and prolific” in his sexual life.
Sue Pilsworth, who was married to the MP for 25 years and lives in Bournemouth, claimed Mr Atkinson had an affair with footballer Justin Fashanu and was HIV positive when he died from cancer aged 71.
The couple divorced in 1992 – something Sue attributes to her discovery that he was leading a secret double life pursuing relationships with men.
Anthony, 37, an illustrator, told the Echo that while they knew of his father’s sexuality, he and his mother had only begun to uncover details of his private life after his death.
He said his father had been “predatory and prolific”, adding: “It was clear from the paperwork we found and the lifestyle he led that yes, those words applied to him.”
Mrs Pilsworth told the Daily Mail at the weekend that she had no inkling of her husband’s homosexuality until 1990, when the footballer Justin Fashanu came out as gay.
She read a newspaper story about the footballer in a dentist’s waiting room and came across the reference to an unnamed, married Conservative MP whom Fashanu had met in a gay bar.
She said she rang her husband in Westminster, who returned home to talk to her and confirmed he was gay.
She said: “I felt utter grief, really. I sat and listened to this man in a suit who had just come from Westminster. I thought about his hypocrisy. I felt disbelief. My mind was in turmoil.”
She claimed Mr Atkinson persuaded her not to divorce him until after the 1992 general election.
Mr Atkinson stood down from Parliament in 2005 and entered into a civil partnership with a man in 2011. He died of bowel cancer in 2012.
At her Bournemouth home yesterday, Mrs Pilsworth said of her ex-husband: “He was probably one of the best constituency MPs Bournemouth East has ever had or will ever have. It’s not about attacking him and we’re very proud of what he did in the constituency.”
Anthony Atkinson spoke to the Daily Telegraph about his father’s sexual behaviour. He said the family had taken their findings about his personal life to the police and were interviewed but that the police did not pursue it.
But he added: “I want to be very clear my dad’s work as an MP was second to none. I would never want anyone to tarnish his reputation as an MP.”
Atkinson – a devoted and diligent politician
DAVID Atkinson represented the town for more than a quarter of a century during which time he built his reputation as a devoted and diligent MP who worked hard for the people of the borough.
Born in Southend, he began his working life working at his father’s car dealership and for a marketing company. He was national chairman of the Young Conservatives and an Essex Councillor before being selected to fight for Bournemouth in a 1977 by-election.
Within his political career he became special rapporteur for Russia as part of his work with the Council of Europe. He also established Christian Solidarity Worldwide, to campaign for the rights of those persecuted for their religious beliefs and was the first backbench British MP to address the United Nations General Assembly.
Among his most notable contributions to the Bournemouth community was securing a £4.5million grant for Hengistbury Head, helping AFC Bournemouth during its financial problems, and his 12-year campaign to restore the town’s railway station. He was also the first MP to raise the Millennium Bug in the House of Commons.
After he stood down from politics he organised a successful campaign for a memorial to those who died when an RAF Halifax bomber crashed in Bournemouth in 1944.
He married Sue Pilsworth in 1968 and they had two children Katie in 1972, and Anthony four years later. The couple divorced in 1992.
He was diagnosed with bowel cancer just before Christmas 2010 and spoke through the pages of the Echo urging others not to ignore the symptoms of the disease which went on to claim his life.
His sexuality was under wraps throughout his political career, though many of those close to him were aware of it, particularly after he entered into a civil partnership in 2011, the year before his death.
His partner Robert Reid spoke at his funeral in January 2012.
‘Joy to work with’
SUPPORTERS of David Atkinson have urged people not to rush to a judgement about the long-serving Bournemouth MP.
They were reacting to the suggestions by Anthony Atkinson that his father’s sexual behaviour had been “predatory and prolific”.
The former MP’s son also said he had contacted Labour MP Tom Watson, who has raised concerns about a paedophile ring around Westminster.
Tobias Ellwood, who succeeded Mr Atkinson as MP for Bournemouth East, said: “Having been made aware of the accusations I would firstly ask why it has taken so long for them to come forward. It should have been raised a long time ago.
“Until something is proved I will continue, as will many in Bournemouth, to view David Atkinson as an excellent, loyal and dedicated MP, who served Bournemouth extremely well.”
Conservative agent Judy Jamieson worked with David Atkinson from 1977. She said: “I have no negativity about David Atkinson at all.
“He was an excellent MP and someone of the highest calibre, It was always a joy and a pleasure to work with him.”
Former Bournemouth councillor and long-time party activist Yvonne Johnstone said: “I really didn’t have any idea and I knew him very well. I knew the family. He kept it hidden very cleverly. I would never have expected such a thing.
“I don’t understand why it’s coming out now two years after he died – I think that’s wrong. I’m suffering from shock, I really am.”
Cllr Sue Anderson said: “I knew David very well and he was a lovely man.
“I did know that he was gay, but he wasn’t breaking the law.
“He was a good MP and in so far as I knew him he was a good man. What he did in his private life really didn’t concern me.”
Cllr Bob Lawton, who didn’t know David Atkinson well, said: “He was a well-respected MP.
“Within the party people feel a little bit sad that this is being said about a man who has been dead a couple of years and has no right of reply.”
Father Denis Blackledge, priest at Corpus Christi Church, Boscombe, conducted Mr Atkinson’s funeral, although he did not know the MP.
He said: “Each of us has almost certainly got secrets in the cupboard and things in our past that we wouldn’t like anybody else to know.
“All persons first of all have a right to his or her good name and it’s our obligation as human beings that if we can’t say anything good, not to say anything at all.”