Man who ‘drowned wife to claim £3.5m insurance’ told friend she ‘died in sleep’

Man who ‘drowned wife to claim £3.5m insurance’ told friend she ‘died in sleep’

A husband accused of drowning his wife to claim £3.5 million life insurance told a friend she had “died in her sleep”, a court has heard.

Property developer Donald McPherson, who denies murder, is accused of a “sinister, pre-planned killing” of his wife Paula Leeson.

The 47-year-old drowned in a 4ft deep swimming pool at a cottage they rented while on holiday in a remote part of western Denmark.

After her death, McPherson told friend Joseph Ennis-Cole she had died while asleep, before inviting him to pretend he was also a widower at a group called Widowed and Young, which he described as “like Tinder for widows”.

Joseph Ennis-Cole did not attend.

McPherson met another woman at the group four months after the death of his “besotted” wife.

Mother-of-one Ms Leeson married the defendant at a no expense spared ceremony at a Cheshire castle in 2014 following a whirlwind romance.

Ms Leeson’s family, from County Wicklow, Ireland, own a successful construction business in Sale, Greater Manchester.

McPherson stood to gain a “vast fortune” in insurance pay-outs after secretly taking out seven life insurance policies on his wife and forging her will, it is alleged.

McPherson, born Alexander James Lang in Takapuna, New Zealand, denies murder on June 6, 2017.

He told police that while on holiday, the couple had been in bed and when he got up he found her face down in the pool and dragged her out.

Mr Ennis-Cole, who met McPherson at a flying school while training him to become a pilot, told the jury: “Don said she had died in her sleep.

“It changed to she had an issue with her teeth and was allergic to medication.

“Then later, closer to the inquest, it became clear she actually drowned. Don did not actually tell me that.”

The witness said McPherson claimed later he did not mention the drowning so as not to “spook” him.

The court heard McPherson often carried a bundle of notes wrapped in an elastic band, spending around £17,000 on flight lessons and tests before he got his licence to be a private pilot.

But the lessons were kept from his wife, who he told another witness was “besotted” with him.

Mr Ennis-Cole added: “The flying was a secret, a private hobby.

“It was also a bit of a laugh at the flying school. He would get a call and play his drill and say, ‘I’m just in the loft Paula, I will ring you back.”‘

He also told the jury that McPherson would on occasion use another name for himself, Rob Jones, both online and in person.

Lynn Dale, one of Ms Leeson’s best friends, told the court about signing two “Trust” documents, which would divert around £800,000 life insurance from Ms Leeson’s son to McPherson in the event of her death.

Ms Dale said: “I do not recognise the document at all. I can categorically state this is not my signature and not my handwriting, I have no knowledge of ever having been asked to complete this.”

The death was initially treated as a tragic accident by the Danish authorities but McPherson was later arrested in the UK as police looked into his financial background.

The trial continues.