Man who 'murdered wife to inherit her millions showed no emotion at funeral'

·News Reporter
·4-min read
Paula Leeson, 47, was killed by her husband Donald McPherson, jurors at Manchester Crown Court have been told. He denies the charge. (PA/Greater Manchester Police)
Paula Leeson, 47, was killed by her husband Donald McPherson, jurors at Manchester Crown Court have been told. He denies the charge. (PA/Greater Manchester Police)

A man accused of drowning his wife to inherit millions showed no emotion at her funeral and did not visit her grave for months, a court has been told.

Donald McPherson denies murdering Paula Leeson, 47, during a holiday in Denmark, which prosecutors say he carried out to gain from insurance payouts and a forgery of her will.

They accuse him of a "sinister pre-planned killing" of Leeson, who drowned in a 4ft deep swimming pool on 6 June 2017 – three years after they married.

Danish authorities had ruled it an accident until 47-year-old McPherson's financial situation emerged, Manchester Crown Court heard.

Jurors were told on Wednesday that witnesses said McPherson did not cry or display emotion at her funeral, while Leeson's mother Betty said it was "strange" he did not visit her resting place for months.

She added in her court statement: "I know he is seeing someone else. Paula was only buried in July. He was seeing an Asian lady by October."

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Paula Leeson died in what was thought to be a drowning accident in Denmark. (PA/Greater Manchester Police)
Paula Leeson died in what was thought to be a drowning accident in Denmark. (PA/Greater Manchester Police)

Jurors have been told that McPherson was born Alexander James Lang in Takapuna, New Zealand.

Prosecutors say he stood to gain up to £3.5m in insurance payouts, having taken out secret life insurance policies on her and forged her will to make him the beneficiary.

He is accused of planning to kill her and make it look like an accident, with Leeson set to inherit wealth made from her family's groundworks and skip hire business in Sale, Greater Manchester.

Jurors heard on Thursday that he told two different versions of how Leeson died to friend Joseph Ennis-Cole, who he met while training to become a pilot – lessons which he kept from his wife.

Ennis-Cole told Manchester Crown Court: "Don said she had died in her sleep.

"It changed to she had an issue with her teeth and was allergic to medication.

"Then later, closer to the inquest, it became clear she actually drowned. Don did not actually tell me that."

He said McPherson claimed he did not say it was a drowning so as not to "spook" him.

The court also heard the defendant invited Ennis-Cole to pretend he was a widower too in order to accompany him to Widowed and Young.

McPherson described it as "like Tinder for widows" and had met a woman four months after Leeson died, but Ennis-Cole declined, jurors heard.

The court was told McPherson lied about being an orphan to avoid talking about his past.

He resented that Leeson's father, Willy, was sitting on "great wealth", and by 2016, McPherson was paying for premiums worth more than £400 a month, jurors heard.

Lynn Dale, one of Leeson's best friends, talked about two documents that would pay about £800,000 in life insurance to McPherson instead of Leeson's son, and said he had no knowledge of anyone asking him to complete them, nor did he recognise the signature as his.

After Leeson's death, McPherson began using her money to pay some of his £67,000 debt off, with his money issues having started to "spiral out of control" after he bought and sold houses, the court was told.

On Wednesday, jurors heard McPherson had been "reluctant" to hand Leeson's phone over to her family as a keepsake.

Leeson's brother Neville said when he got the phone he found selfies of the smiling couple taken on the day she died, but McPherson had told police he had been in bed before he found her face down in the pool.

The photos were in the trash folder, apparently deleted after she died, the jury heard.

David McLachlan QC said McPherson was not a man of means but a “man of straw”.

"His actions in the aftermath of her death are characterised by greed not grief because money was his motivation throughout."

“He stood to gain a vast amount of money.”

The trial continues.

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