United Kingdom

Property developer, 47, 'murdered heiress wife to cash in on £3.5million in life insurance' 

Donald McPherson, 47, killed Paula Leeson in June 2017 , it was claimed

A property developer murdered his wealthy heiress wife by drowning her in the pool of their holiday cottage in Denmark to get his hands on £3.5 million in life insurance, a court has heard.

Donald McPherson, 47, killed Paula Leeson in June 2017 after taking her on a mini-break to Nørre Nebel, a remote village in Denmark , before staging her death to look like an accident, it was claimed. 

Danish Police had no idea he stood to gain a 'vast fortune' from the death of mother-of-one Miss Leeson, 47, who hailed from a wealthy construction family, Manchester Crown Court was told.

It was claimed McPherson 'resented' his in-laws for 'sitting on wealth' and had taken out various insurance policies in the run up to her murder making him a financial beneficiary in the event of his wife's death.

McPherson, born Alexander James Lang and originally from Auckland, New Zealand, denies murder on June 6, 2017. 

The couple had wed at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, in June 2014, a 'grand affair and no expense was spared'.

David McLachlan QC told the jury the defendant had a 'big secret' - that in the four years before Paula Leeson's death he had taken out seven life insurance policies on his wife, who was also to inherit a business worth 'millions'.

She knew nothing about the insurance policies on her life, but they were worth up to £3.5 million, all payable to her husband if she died first.

McPherson, who also had a private pilot's licence, had also forged her will, according to forensic handwriting experts, making him the beneficiary, its alleged.

His wife was also to inherit 'millions' from the family business her father owned.

In June 2017, McPherson and Paula, described as 'generous to a fault' had gone on a mini-break to a remote part of western Denmark, though her family noticed she was not herself and seemed, 'to have something on her mind'.

While there she drowned in the swimming pool of the house they had rented, three days into the trip. She had only gone on the trip to please her husband and 'hated' the pool and the seaside.

Mr McLachlan told the jury: '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.

Danish Police had no idea he stood to gain a 'vast fortune' from the death of mother-of-one Miss Leeson, 47, who hailed from a wealthy construction family, Manchester Crown Court was told (stock) 

Donald took her on a mini-break to Nørre Nebel, in Denmark, before staging her death to look like an accident, it is claimed

'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.'

Paula Leeson came from a close-knit, hard-working Irish immigrant family, her father William 'Willy' Leeson and mother Elizabeth 'Betty' Leeson, moved to Manchester in the late 1960s where they ran a family business, W Leeson and Son, specialising in ground works and skip hire.

They all worked in the family business, her younger brother Neville Leeson, being the general manager and Paula overseeing invoices and the skip hire business - where she met McPherson, who renovated and sold on property.

Paula Leeson had her only child, Ben, when she was 17 years of age and her relationship with her son's father soon fizzled out.

They all lived with their grandparents at the family home at Ashlands, in Sale, Greater Manchester, until Paula wed McPherson and they renovated their matrimonial home nearby.

Ben was the 'apple of her eye' and his mother described as a 'very organised and disciplined person' who more than 25 years earlier, made him the sole beneficiary of her will.

Until she met McPherson she had a 'relatively modest' pension and insurance policies, a creature of habit her 'thing' was going shopping with her mother and visiting the hairdressers and she would always be 'immaculately turned out.'

Her husband had grown up with his parents and two sisters in Auckland, but claimed to be an orphan, 'dumped' by his family to live with foster parents.

Mr McLachlan told the jury this was a lie, which was a 'cover story' so he would never discuss his past.

The defendant had also trained to be a pilot, which he did not tell his wife about, claiming to be working if she called when he was taking flying lessons.

McPherson told his flight instructor how: 'If Willy and Betty Leeson died that the family business would be worth millions and it would be split between Neville and Paula Leeson' and the defendant 'resented the fact that Willy Leeson sat on his great wealth'.

Ahead of their marriage Paula Leeson made a second will, which the prosecution say was forged by her husband.

And two life insurance policies for Paula Leeson, each worth £400,000, benefitting her son, had a forged Trust form attached to them, diverting the cash to himself.

Handwriting experts could not say who forged the documents, but McPherson was the only person who stood to gain.

By 2016 the defendant was paying £464.47-a-month premiums for the life insurance policies he had taken out on his wife. He never missed a payment despite sometimes being overdrawn and 'significantly in debt,' the jury heard.

The trial continues.

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