A devoted father has revealed he discovered the three sons he had raised for more than 20 years were not his when doctors told him he had been infertile since birth.
Now Richard Mason’s ex-wife has been ordered to pay him £250,000 following an extraordinary legal case that has allowed her to keep the identity of the real father a secret.
Devastated Mr Mason never doubted he was the boys’ biological dad until two years ago when he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis – an inherited disease which prevents male sufferers from fathering children naturally.
DNA and other tests later confirmed beyond doubt that the businessman has no biological link to his eldest, now 23, and his 19-year-old twins, throwing his life – and his relationship with them – into turmoil.
Mr Mason believes that the same man fathered all three boys during an intermittent four-year affair his wife Kate, 54, embarked on in the late 1990s.
But she only confessed to the adultery in 2016, ten years on from their divorce, when he confronted her about the children’s paternity.
It is not known if Mrs Mason’s former lover is aware he has three sons from the on-off relationship.
The heart-wrenching case came to light when Mr Mason launched a legal bid to claw back some of the £4 million his wife received in their divorce settlement, as well as suing her for paternity fraud. As a result, two of the boys have since broken off contact with him.
Legal papers seen by The Mail on Sunday reveal that, when she became pregnant with the first child, Mrs Mason declared a sudden interest in Judaism and also insisted all three children were given Jewish middle names. She also refused to have them christened.
Mr Mason, from Rhos, North Wales, believes it is a clue to the identity of the real father, but he is tortured by not knowing who he is and has called on his ex-wife to admit the truth if only for the sake of her sons.
Last night, Mr Mason, 55, a wealthy co-founder of internet comparison site MoneySupermarket.com, told The Mail on Sunday that discovering the boys were not his own left his life in pieces.
‘You don’t know what’s real and what isn’t – it’s as if I’m living in The Matrix,’ he said. ‘Someone says to you, “All that you know and everything you thought to be solid and true is not real, and never did exist. You are not a father, you are not able to have kids, your name will not continue.”
‘I still see what the boys are doing on Facebook and it’s heart-wrenching because we saw the graduation of the eldest on there, but I wasn’t invited.
‘I walk past a toy store and it reminds you of buying Christmas presents for them and other family occasions.
‘And when friends post things on Facebook about their own families like their first grandchild or saying they’re proud of their boy for something, I just think, “My God, that’s all been taken away from me.” ’
His solicitor Roger Terrell, an expert in the field, launched a twin-pronged legal attack, not only to have the divorce settlement reviewed in the Family Court, but also to seek damages from Mrs Mason for paternity fraud in Birmingham County Court. ‘We understand that it’s a legal first because there has never been a divorce financial settlement set aside in such emotive circumstances,’ said Mr Terrell.
‘Normally it’s the husband who’s brought back to court because he’s failed to disclose some of his income, but in this case it was the wife, and it was the paternity of the children which was the issue. All this makes it very unusual.’
Mr Mason, now remarried, said his ex-wife ‘tricked’ him into believing the boys were his, when at the very least there must have been some doubt in her mind – not least because she only became pregnant seven years into their marriage.
‘After the divorce, she constantly hounded me for more maintenance even though I always complied with the Child Support Agency demands,’ he said.
‘Meanwhile, the biological father has never paid a penny as far as I know.’
Shocking, heart-rendering and utterly devastating. Co-founder of MoneySuperMarket.com Richard tells of his bitterness at his ex-wife’s betrayal and his emotional appeal for the REAL father to come forward…
The walls of Richard Mason’s study are crowded with photographs of three tousle-haired boys caught at the milestone moments of their young lives.
Like any father, he cherishes these precious reminders of holidays, family celebrations and the school years during which his sons grew into adulthood.
But after 21 years that paternal pride was suddenly shattered – replaced by profound sorrow and a burning sense of betrayal.
In 2016, he was told that it was medically impossible for him to have fathered the sons he loved – and still loves.
The news came at the cruellest possible moment while he was reeling from the shock of being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a life-limiting condition that effectively meant Richard, 55, was living on borrowed time.
As he tried to come to terms with the diagnosis, the multi-millionaire businessman also learned that a devastating side effect of the genetic condition was infertility.
Despite apparent evidence to the contrary in the shape of the sons he had watched being born, there was no medical chance whatsoever they could be related to him by blood. ‘I just didn’t know who I was any more,’ he told The Mail on Sunday.
‘It’s like suffering a bereavement, it’s incredible, but in a way it’s even worse than that because it goes to the very heart of who you think you are. When someone asks you about your background, you tell them you’re the father of three children – it’s how you define yourself.
‘In an instant I discovered I didn’t really have any children.
‘You begin to question everything you thought you knew when such a fundamental pillar of your life is suddenly removed.’
That day two years ago, when the life Richard thought he had was dismantled by a few sentences from a hospital consultant, marked the beginning of his legal quest to wring the truth from his ex-wife Kate, 54.
The couple, who met as colleagues at Barclays Bank, married in 1987, divorced 20 years later and Kate received a £4 million lump sum as well as on-going maintenance.
In December 2016, after discovering he was not the father of the boys – who we have chosen not to name – Richard set out to claw back some of the millions he had paid her over the years in a case believed by his lawyer to be a legal first.
He launched a rare paternity fraud case and a few weeks ago she agreed out of court to hand back a £250,000 portion of the lump sum after he sought to have the divorce financial settlement ‘set aside’. The case hinged on her alleged deceit.
As he tries to adjust to the devastating transformation of his life through illness and the ‘loss’ of his children, Richard clings to the fervent hope that he can somehow repair the fractured relationships with the boys he refers to as ‘the sons I thought were mine’ – before it is too late.
On the day which would change his life for ever, Richard and his current wife Emma drove the 65 miles to Liverpool’s Broadgreen Hospital from their home in Rhos, North Wales.
They imagined the appointment was to routinely alter the antibiotics used to treat the ‘pleurisy’ which had plagued Richard for more than a year. Though there is a family history of cystic fibrosis, a genetic test carried out in the 1980s had given him the all-clear.
This time, however, the news would not be so good. ‘The consultant, Dr Dennis Wat, sat us down in his office and broke it to me as Emma sat by my side,’ said Richard.
‘He said, “I’m really sorry to tell you Richard, that you’ve got cystic fibrosis.” I was stunned – my initial reaction was “F*** no!” because my sister had died of this and my younger sister’s also very ill.’
What came next was a far more profound shock, one which would lead Richard to question every facet of his life up to that point.
‘Dr Wat said he was aware that we’d been trying for a baby and considering fertility treatment and added, “I need to tell you that men with cystic fibrosis cannot conceive a child unless it’s by IVF.”
‘But I said, “Well, you must have got the diagnosis wrong then because I’ve got three sons.” I actually felt pleased to be able to tell him this, because in my mind it proved his diagnosis was wrong, and therefore I hadn’t got the disease which killed my sister.
‘But he looked over at the nurse as if to say, “How do we deal with this?” He turned back to me and said, “Let me tell you, Richard – in Liverpool we look after 2,000 males with cystic fibrosis, and not one, not a single one of them, has ever fathered a child, apart from one case where the DNA suggested a man was the father, only for it to turn out his brother had been having an affair with the man’s wife, and made her pregnant.”
‘He just told me I should have a conversation with my ex-wife. After that, I just had that feeling of ringing in my ears after you hit your head really hard. Nothing seemed to sink in.’
His voice cracking with emotion, he added: ‘I didn’t cry then, but I was shaking and the room was ringing, people were talking but I wasn’t taking it in.
‘I was just thinking, “S***, my life is ruined.”
‘How are you going to tell your friends and family – parents, aunties and uncles that they do not have grandchildren or nephews?’
Still in a daze, Richard walked out of the hospital to the car park and, with shaking hands, composed a text to Kate, telling her what he’d just learned and that he would now have to undergo sperm analysis and an ultrasound scan on his scrotum.
He wrote: ‘I was hoping that you could relieve me of this further indignity by letting me know now if I am the father.
‘I am happy to go along with your advice as to how best to tell the boys. But, if you force me to go through these extra tests then I shall be telling them as I wish.
‘I have no intention of suing you and would like to remain in the boys’ lives.’
Her reply came within minutes, but was somewhat less than categorical: ‘Of course the boys are yours, no matter what the science might suggest.’
Far from convinced, Richard decided to take the momentous step of informing his eldest son, then aged 21 and a university student.
‘I told him I’d just been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, which he took surprisingly calmly, and I said, “Yes, but one of the things that I’ve just been told is that it is extremely unlikely that someone with cystic fibrosis could father a child.”
‘He said, “I’m already ahead of you, Dad. You’re saying you’re probably not my father?”
‘It would have been the hardest sentence to utter, and he did it for me.
‘I said, “Well, I’m your dad, obviously, but I don’t think I conceived you.” It was very emotional but I was also very angry. I did break down and weep but it took a few days for that to happen once the shock has subsided.’
Two days later, after being confronted by her son, Kate phoned Richard and admitted she had been seeing a man in an on-off affair during their 20-year marriage, but refused point-blank to name him.
She said he was a member of Barclays’ staff and that they met in a London hotel from time to time on overnight trips she attended as a union official.
She claimed there were six to 12 occasions when they had sex, which covered the times when she fell pregnant, but it ‘couldn’t be him,’ because they used condoms each time, so insisted that Richard must be the father.
Richard and Kate had met while working at a branch of the bank in the West Midlands in the 1980s, and he enjoyed a high-flying career, especially when he teamed up with university accountancy drop-out Simon Nixon, who went on to launch one of Britain’s first price comparison sites, Moneysupermarket.
On flotation in 2007, Richard’s 1.25 per cent shareholding became worth a staggering £10 million overnight.
The three boys were, Richard believes, the only good things to come out of a marriage he describes as ‘cold and joyless’.
He was present for all their births by caesarean: the first in 1995 and then twins four years later.
But by the beginning of 2007, the marriage was on the rocks and he and Kate separated.
The divorce was finalised in early 2008 and, in the financial settlement a year later, Kate’s £4 million lump sum included the boys’ private school fees in advance.
Richard complied with Child Support Agency (later the Child Maintenance Service) assessments for maintenance, which amounted to nearly £3,000 a month in the early years following their divorce.
But according to him, that was never enough for Kate.
‘She hounded me for years, employing consultants to investigate my financial affairs and tried to make me pay more,’ he said, his surprisingly youthful features contorted with suppressed rage. ‘Meanwhile, as far as I know, the biological father of the boys has never paid a penny for their upkeep.’
Kate now lives very comfortably in a £1 million seven-bedroom house in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, with a new partner and, when Richard last visited to pick up the boys, there were four cars in the long driveway, including a Range Rover Vogue and a C Class Mercedes Cabriolet.
In the face of Kate’s denial, Richard felt he had no option but to seek advice from paternity fraud expert, solicitor Roger Terrell, and the legal case was launched in December 2016 at Birmingham County Court.
Medical tests confirmed that Richard was incapable of producing sperm in the normal way, and DNA tests on the 16-year-old twins proved they were not his sons.
The eldest, however, refused to provide a DNA sample, saying, ‘As far as I’m concerned he’s my dad and that’s that.’
But as the legal case progressed, he also had a devastating message for his father, Richard said.
‘My eldest told me, “Dad, if you sue Mum, I will never speak to you again” – and he hasn’t.’
One of his twins hasn’t been in touch either, but the other – now at university – texts Richard fairly regularly. But, as Richard pointed out, the emotional fallout has gone way beyond himself and the boys.
His 85-year-old mother, Brenda, has Alzheimer’s and when he visits her once or twice a week, she’ll invariably ask, ‘How are the boys?’ Fighting back tears, he said: ‘All these years, she thinks they were her grandchildren. So when she asks, I might say “fine” and change the subject, but I can’t lie to her and invariably I’ll have to tell her I don’t see them any more.
‘Then I have to explain why, and then we both relive the agony together, with me knowing I’ll have to do it all over again the following week. It’s unbearable. My family too have lost the boys, and I feel their loss too.
‘The ripple effect of Kate’s lies has been massive.
‘The future is depressing to me. I expected the joy of graduations, 21st birthday celebrations, weddings, grandchildren, the hopes and fears of your offspring setting off to be adults and guiding and helping them along the way. That has been stolen from me in the most brutal way possible.’
He struggles with how to characterise his relationship to the boys, not only when speaking to others, but also in his own mind.
‘I’m not their father, I know that, but I’m still their dad. When I talk about them with other people, naturally, after 21 years, I say “my sons”, then I have to stop and correct myself and say, “the sons I thought were mine”.
‘It’s different if you adopt or foster a child. That’s been done out of choice without any deceit or lies. In this case, because there has been deception it eats away at you.
‘I’m not their father – I’m not even a friend of the family. I’m just a guy who was there when they were being brought up.’
He finds himself tortured by a flashback when he wakes in the middle of the night – a flashback to a hitherto insignificant moment from years earlier, but now viewed through the prism of suspicion.
The scene is an Indian restaurant which the couple are visiting for the first time – yet the owner recalls seeing Kate on many occasions before, despite her denials.
Then, what to make of the sudden interest in Judaism which Kate declared during her first pregnancy? And her insistence that each of the boys should have a ‘Jewish’ middle name? Richard was curious at the time, but now believes it was a big clue to the identity of the boys’ biological father.
He desperately wants to know who that man is. He has his theories, one centred around a former boyfriend of Kate’s who also worked at the bank, but she has denied it, and he doesn’t want to accuse him with no firm evidence.
‘I would like the biological father to read this article and come forward,’ he said. ‘Not least for the boys’ sake because they will want to know who their real father is, even if hopefully they will always think of me as their dad.’
Richard’s lung capacity has deteriorated dramatically since he was first diagnosed two years ago, from 84 per cent of average to 72 per cent, but now appears more stable due to antibiotics.
But he reckons he has around ten years before he will have to depend on an oxygen tank to breathe – the same journey his sister Susan travelled while waiting for a lung transplant in 1989. She died on the operating table while renowned heart surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub attempted a heart-lung transplant at Harefield Hospital.
Richard readily admits that only his love for Emma has kept him going – and helping her through her own breast cancer.
She is now six months clear after having one breast removed but will have a second mastectomy and a hysterectomy soon because she has the ‘killer’ gene, inherited from her mother, who died of the disease aged 42.
Richard is most bitter that Kate’s deception over the boys’ paternity has also effectively robbed him of having his own child with Emma.
Only a few weeks after Richard learned that he was infertile, Emma, now 46, received her cancer diagnosis and began a course of chemotherapy which put her body into a premature menopause.
Looking ahead, Richard, whose persistent cough is the only clue to his declining lung capacity, now wants one thing more than ever – to be the boys’ ‘dad’ once more.
‘If I could wave a magic wand, I would want to be in all their lives,’ he said.
Though two of the boys still maintain a stony silence towards him, Richard was overjoyed to receive a text from the third last month, which began: ‘Dad, as I explained from the beginning you would never not be dad to me regardless of all this. Of course I’ll stay in touch, that will never change… I’m always here for you too and you will always be Dad. Love you x.’
Kate Mason and her sons were all approached by The Mail on Sunday but declined to comment.
A donation will be made to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in return for Richard Mason’s co-operation with this article.