United Kingdom

Property developer accused of murdering heiress wife joined Tinder for widows, court hears

Donald McPherson is accused of staging the death of his wife Paula Leeson (pictured) 'to look like an accident' in a bid to get his hands on her £3.5million life insurance

A property developer accused of murdering his wealthy wife while on holiday in Denmark was seeing another woman four months after becoming a widow, a court heard today. 

Donald McPherson, 47, is accused of a 'sinister pre-planned killing' of his wife Paula Leeson, also 47, who drowned in a 4ft deep swimming pool at the cottage they rented while on holiday in Danish village Nørre Nebel on June 6, 2017.

Manchester Crown Court heard the defendant, who was born Alexander James Lang in Takapuna, New Zealand, stood to gain up to £3.5million in insurance payouts if his wife died before him.

McPherson was seen with an 'Asian lady' and joined a group, Widowed And Young, which he described as 'like Tinder for widows', the court was also told.

The morning after her death, McPherson made online transactions to move money from their joint bank account to his personal accounts. Prosecutors claim he did this to 'reduce his credit card debts'.  

McPherson, who lived with his wife in Sale, Greater Manchester, denies murder.

Betty Leeson, the mother of Paula Leeson, in a statement read to the court on the second day of the trial, said it was 'strange' the defendant had not been to see his wife's grave for months after her funeral and other witnesses said he did not cry or show emotion at her funeral.

Mrs Leeson added: 'I know he is seeing someone else. Paula was only buried in July. He was seeing an Asian lady by October.'

Her son Neville Leeson told the jury McPherson was 'reluctant' to hand over his sister's iPhone after her death as a keepsake and to keep her old photos.

Mr Leeson said that after he eventually got the phone he discovered some photos, including selfies of the smiling couple, taken on the day she died, though McPherson told police they had been in bed and when he got up he found her face down in the pool and dragged her out.

The photos were in the trash folder, seemingly deleted from her camera roll after her death, the jury heard.

David McLachlan QC, prosecuting, told the court the defendant was not a man of means but a 'man of straw'.

He added: '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 prosecutor added: 'His wife had been dead eight days, her body had still yet to be repatriated and laid to rest, and he was joining Widowed and Young (WAY).' 

Donald McPherson, 47, has denied murder at Manchester Crown Court (pictured) 

Earlier the court heard after a 'whirlwind romance' McPherson married Paula Leeson, in a 'no expense spared' ceremony at a Cheshire castle.

Her family, originally from County Wicklow in Ireland, own a successful building firm in Sale, Greater Manchester, and McPherson is also accused of forging her will.

The court heard his debts had begun to 'spiral out of control' after buying and selling houses, when he booked them a trip to a remote coastal cottage in western Denmark in June 2017 - despite his wife 'hating' beach holidays.

Her death was initially treated as a tragic accident by the Danish authorities though she had suffered injuries, but McPherson was later arrested in the UK as police looked into his financial background. 

The prosecution claim Mr McPherson 'never really showed much emotion after his wife's death', with a Danish paramedic describing McPherson's efforts to resuscitate his wife as 'very bad'.

Mr McLachlan added: 'Far from being overwhelmed from grief, Donald McPherson was partying away with the Widowed and Young group.'  

On the day of her death, Ms Leeson had spoken to her mother, who said her daughter seemed 'subdued, as if something was wrong', the court heard. 

At 1.46pm, on June 6, McPherson called the emergency services. A paramedic arrived about ten minutes later and saw McPherson giving his wife CPR as she lay on the edge of the pool. 

The paramedic said Mr McPherson 'had not pressed hard enough', and had 'apologised because he had an injured shoulder'.

Mr McLachlan said: 'He thought that Donald McPherson's resuscitation attempts to supposedly save his wife's life were very bad, as there was still so much water inside her lungs.'

Mr McLachlan asked jurors to question whether, 'in fact [he] was really trying'. 

McPherson told police he had not seen his wife for 20 minutes before finding her in the pool.  

A post-mortem examination in Denmark found Ms Leeson had suffered injuries including abrasions and bruises to her forehead, and injuries to her arms and legs.  Her death was found to be 'assumed accidental' by the Danish authorities.

Mr McLachlan said: 'The prosecution case is that her death was far from accidental.'

In April 2018, Greater Manchester Police arrested Mr McPherson, and he denied killing his wife. 

The trial, which is expected to last six weeks, was adjourned until tomorrow morning.         

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