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Family scream in disbelief in court as husband cleared of killing wife for life insurance millions

Connor Parker
·4-min read
Donald McPherson was accused of murdering his wife Linda Leeson. (Reach)
Donald McPherson was accused of murdering his wife Linda Leeson. (Reach)

A family screamed in disbelief as a murder trial investigating the death of the woman who drowned in a Danish holiday home was abandoned, despite the judge saying it was "likely" her husband caused her death.

Donald McPherson was accused of drowning his wife Paula Leeson, 47, while on vacation in Denmark in order to receive a large payout from the insurance.

On Wednesday, the judge halted proceedings saying there was insufficient evidence for jurors to safely convict the defendant, who denied murder, as the prosecution case was built on circumstantial evidence.

As the ruling to stop the trial was made, Ms Leeson’s father, Irish businessman Willy Leeson, broke down in tears along with his wife Betty, as they sat in the public gallery yards from the defendant.

Mr Leeson shouted: “Oh God, oh God, unbelievable.”

His son Neville Leeson shouted to the judge: “God Almighty. You are making a big mistake.”

The family were absent from court on Thursday as Mr Justice Goose formally directed the jury forewoman to return a not guilty verdict to murder on the defendant.

The trial collapsed at Manchester Crown Court. (Reach)
The trial collapsed at Manchester Crown Court. (Reach)

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Justice Goose said there were two available possibilities: Firstly, McPherson restrained his wife underwater or overcame her in a struggle or pushed her to cause her to drown; Or secondly, Ms Leeson drowned by an accident, by a trip, fall or a faint, causing her to fall into the water.

He added: “Whilst the first of those alternatives is clearly more likely, that does not mean that a jury, on the face of the pathological evidence alone, could be sure of it.”

He said whilst the “substantial body of circumstantial evidence” has caused “strong suspicion” McPherson may have caused his wife’s death, it is “insufficient” to disprove it was an accident.

In the four years before her death, McPherson had taken out the seven life insurance policies and by 2016 was paying £464.47p-a-month premiums.

Prosecutor McLachlan told the jury Ms Leeson’s death “at first glance” appeared to be a tragic accident, but he alleged it was “a sinister pre-planned killing” by her husband, who was born Alexander James Lang and originally from New Zealand.

Ms Leeson’s family had told the jury McPherson “appeared out of nowhere” and after a “whirlwind romance” the couple wed two years after meeting in a “no expense spared” ceremony at Peckforton Castle, Cheshire, in June 2014.

As a birthday present, McPherson booked them a trip to a cottage in Norre Nebel on the coast of remote western Denmark in June 2017 – despite his wife "hating" beach holidays.

On the day of her death, a health data app on Ms Leeson’s phone recorded her last movement at 1.13pm.

The next movement on McPherson’s phone was 26 minutes later, and at 1.46pm he called the emergency services.

McPherson told Danish police his wife had complained of stomach ache and toothache and she had been sick and they had both been in bed.

When he awoke his wife was gone and he found her fully clothed, face down in the swimming pool, not moving.

He said he struggled to pull her out, partly due to a shoulder injury, and called for an ambulance.

The Danish paramedic told the court she was already dead when they arrived and a doctor pronounced life extinct at 2.26pm.

Her death was initially treated as a tragic accident by the Danish authorities.

But as a routine post-mortem examination was carried out, bleeding was discovered in Ms Leeson’s neck and the procedure halted and police called.

Separate external injuries were recorded to her face and arms, described as bruises, abrasions or haemorrhages, with more internal injuries, including bleeding to the back of her neck, forehead and both temples.

Danish authorities initially concluded her death was “assumed accidental”, but later ruled the conclusion must be changed to “undetermined”.

The change was because of new information about the pool Ms Leeson drowned in being made to available to the investigating pathologist.

Professor Peter Leth, a pathologist based in Denmark who appeared via video link told the court he was initially told the swimming pool was 180 cm deep, about five foot nine.

He was later informed it was actually 120cm deep, just under four foot. Ms Leeson was said to be five foot five.

He said the fact Ms Leeson was taller than the depth of the pool made it "less likely" she would have accidentally drowned.

Ms Leeson's family said she could swim, but that she didn't like swimming.

Professor Leth his work revealed there was no indication of a "fight or struggle".

He added: "It is possible to drown a person without much struggle if you are heavier than this person, and the person is taken by surprise."

Leth said his investigation could not determine how Ms Leeson ended up in the pool and added the injuries found on her body could have been caused by later attempts to resuscitate her.

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