Heiress’ family fights to stop husband cleared of murder from inheriting £4.4m

  • Wealthy heiress’ family seeks to block husband from inheriting £4.4 million estate
  • Donald McPherson, 50, was acquitted of Paula Leeson’s murder in 2017
  • Additional reporting: Pat Hurst, PA Wire

The family of a wealthy heiress from Trafford is attempting to prevent her former husband from inheriting her £4.4m will following the collapse of his murder trial.

Property developer Donald McPherson, 50, had denied the murder of Paula Leeson, 47, in 2017, and a judge ordered the jury to find him not guilty at his trial in 2021, as there was insufficient evidence for a safe conviction.

The family are asking a judge to rule she was unlawfully killed to stop McPherson from benefiting from his late wife’s will and other assets worth £4.4m, the Manchester Civil Court of Justice heard.

‘Secret life insurance policies taken out before drowning’

Before her death, McPherson had taken out seven “secret” life insurance policies on his “besotted” wife and stood to gain £3.5m from the policies if she died, his murder trial in 2021 heard.

Property developer Donald McPherson, 50, accused of drowning his wealthy heiress wife, Paula Leeson, 47, was found not guilty of murder at Manchester Crown Court after judge Mr Justice Goose halted his trial after ruling there was insufficient evidence. Photo Credit: GMP

McPherson claimed to be sleeping when she drowned in the pool at the remote holiday cottage in western Denmark where they were staying on June 6, 2017.

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

‘McPherson used Ms Leeson’s money to pay off his debts’

The day after her death, McPherson transferred large amounts of money from her accounts to clear his debts the court heard.

A week later McPherson joined a group, Widowed and Young, which he described as “Tinder for Widows.”

He had also “systematically” deleted data from his wife’s phone, which may have explained what happened, the court was told.

McPherson’s murder trial was halted in March 2021 by trial judge Mr Justice Goose, ruling insufficient evidence as the prosecution case was based on circumstantial evidence.

Crucially, Ms Leeson’s death cannot be ruled out as an accident.

13 separate injuries, trial heard

Pathologists found 13 separate injuries on Ms Leeson’s body, which jurors heard may have been sustained while being restrained or in a rescue and resuscitation attempt.

He directed the jury to return a not guilty verdict to murder.

Ms Leeson had stood to inherit the family business owned by her father, who had built up a successful groundwork and skip hire firm in Sale.

McPherson has 32 previous convictions, court told

McPherson did not attend the hearing, which proceeded without him.

He is believed to live in several South Pacific countries, including French Polynesia and Fiji.

The court has been told McPherson has been convicted of 32 criminal offences of dishonesty or fraud in New Zealand, the UK and Germany, where he was jailed for involvement in an £11.8 million bank fraud.

The hearing continues.