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Property developer 'drowned wife on holiday to gain insurance millions from her death'

Will Taylor
·News Reporter
·3-min read
General view of Manchester Crown Court , Crown Square, in the Manchester city centre
Donald McPherson is on trial over the death of Paula Leeson at Manchester Crown Court.

A property developer murdered his wealthy wife by drowning her in a pool on holiday and making it look like an accident to get her "vast fortune", a court has been told.

Donald McPherson is accused of killing Paula Leeson less than three years after their marriage, having secretly taken out seven life insurance policies on her worth £3.5 million.

The 47-year-old had also forged her will to make him the beneficiary and he stood to inherit millions from her father's business, jurors at Manchester Crown Court have been told.

McPherson, born Alexander James Laing and originally from Auckland, New Zealand, denies murdering her in Denmark on 6 June 2017.

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David McLachlan QC, prosecuting, said: “The prosecution case is, that whilst at first glance it appeared that her untimely death was an accident, the evidence will show that it was not.

“It was a sinister pre-planned killing and the person responsible for her drowning was none other than her husband Donald McPherson.

“The motive for the drowning was the oldest and simplest one in the book. It was financial.

“He stood to gain a vast fortune by her death. This was something which was not known by the Danish authorities in the immediate aftermath of Paula Leeson’s death.”

McPherson married Leeson, also 47, at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire in June 2014, in a "grand affair and no expense was spared", the court was told on Tuesday.

Three years on, the couple went on a mini-break to a remote part of western Denmark, though her family noticed Leeson seemed to "have something on her mind".

She drowned in the swimming pool of the house they rented but hated pools and the seaside, having only gone to please her husband, the court heard.

"Generous to a fault" Leeson, who came from Sale, Greater Manchester, stood to inherit the wealth from the family groundworks and skip hire business, and made her son Ben, from a previous relationship, her sole beneficiary in her will.

She came to meet McPherson, who described himself as an orphan – though the court heard that this was a lie to stop him discussing his past.

He had trained to be a pilot but did not tell his wife about it, claiming to be at work if she called as he took flying lessons.

McPherson "resented" that Leeson's father Willy "sat on his great wealth" and forged a second will for Leeson ahead of their marriage, the prosecutor said.

Two life insurance policies for Leeson, each worth £400,000, benefitted her son but McPherson had forged a trust form attached to them which would divert the money to himself, the court heard.

Handwriting experts were unable to say who forged the documents but McPherson was the only person who could gain, jurors were told.

By 2016, he was paying £464-a-month premiums for the life insurance policies – described in court as his "big secret" – but never missed a payment despite sometimes being overdrawn and getting into significant debt, the court heard.

The trial continues.

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