Wife’s drowning in pool was suspicious, friend tells court

The friend of a mother-of-one who drowned in a swimming pool on holiday told a court she was “suspicious” over her death.

Lynn Dale said Paula Leeson, 47, would “never” go into a pool willingly, did not like swimming or getting wet and would not even go near water.

Convicted fraudster Donald McPherson, 50, who had taken out £3.5 million in secret life insurance policies on his wife Ms Leeson, was accused of her murder in 2017, and went on trial but was found not guilty in 2021 on a judge’s direction due to insufficient evidence.

While cleared of murder, Ms Leeson’s family have brought legal proceedings against McPherson at Manchester Civil Courts of Justice, asking a judge to rule he unlawfully killed her by drowning in a swimming pool on holiday in Denmark, so he forfeits any legal entitlement to benefiting from the life insurance policies or his late wife’s will and estate, worth £4.4 million.

Paula Leeson
Ms Leeson died aged 47 (Greater Manchester Police/PA)

The court has heard McPherson being described as a “Walter Mitty” who had changed his name multiple times, had 32 convictions spanning 15 years in three countries, and whose previous wife and their child died in a house fire.

Ms Dale was maid of honour at the lavish wedding of Ms Leeson and McPherson at a no-expense-spared ceremony at a Cheshire castle in 2014, following a “whirlwind romance.”

He claimed to be a property developer and she oversaw the skip hire part of her family’s successful ground-working business her father Willy, 80, had built up in Sale, Greater Manchester, after emigrating from County Wicklow, Ireland, in the 1960s.

Ms Leeson and her brother Neville stood to inherit the business.

McPherson told police he awoke to find Ms Leeson face down in the shallow swimming pool at a holiday cottage in remote western Denmark he had booked for the couple, on June 6, 2017.

Ms Leeson, who was 5ft 5in tall, drowned in the pool that was under 4ft deep, though she could swim and was an otherwise healthy mother-of-one.

Lawyers for the Leeson family argue to save herself from drowning she could simply have stood up, so must have been choked before being put into the water unconscious.

Ms Dale said the holiday, organised by McPherson was not Ms Leeson’s type of holiday and the trip did not excite her at all.

After being told of Ms Leeson’s death Ms Dale told the court: “I remember saying that he must be wrong as Paula would never go into a pool. She wouldn’t go near water and didn’t like swimming pools.”

Ms Dale then went to console the Leeson family.

She added: “We were all in shock about how she died. We were all suspicious of what had happened.”

The court has heard soon after her death, McPherson cleared their home in Sale, Greater Manchester, of his late wife’s possessions and joined a bereavement group, Widowed And Young – that he called “Tinder for widows”.

Born Alexander James Lang and originally from New Zealand, McPherson lied that he was an orphan with no family.

He had also served a jail sentence for an £11 million bank fraud in Germany, the court heard.

Ms Leeson’s death was initially treated as an accident by the Danish authorities – though she had suffered 13 separate external injuries, but McPherson was later arrested in the UK as police looked into his financial background.

But his murder trial at Manchester Crown Court was halted in March 2021 by Mr Justice Goose, ruling there was insufficient evidence for jurors to safely convict as an accidental death could not be ruled out.

After he was acquitted, in a statement through his solicitors, McPherson denied any involvement in his wife’s death, saying it was a “tragic accident”.

He is not present at the hearing or legally represented and believed to be living in the South Pacific.

The hearing was adjourned until Monday.