Pool death heiress had neck injuries, court hears

Paula Leeson
Paula Leeson died after drowning during a Danish holiday [PA Media]

Injuries to a wealthy heiress who drowned in a swimming pool could have been caused by a hand or arm around her neck, a court has heard.

Paula Leeson, 47, from Sale, was found to have 13 injuries after she was discovered in the pool at a holiday property in Denmark she had visited with her husband Donald McPherson in 2017.

He was cleared of her murder in 2021.

Ms Leeson's family want a judge to rule he unlawfully killed her.


Ms Leeson's elderly father, Willy Leeson, wept as the Danish pathologist who carried out the post-mortem examination on his daughter answered questions from Lesley Anderson KC, representing the family, at Manchester Civil Courts of Justice.

Initially, Danish police wrongly told Professor Peter Leth that Ms Leeson was a non-swimmer.

Professor Leth said that, if Ms Leeson could not swim, it would have "enhanced" her chances of drowning, but if she could swim, it would have reduced them.

Ms Anderson KC also said the pool depth was not 180cm (5 ft 9 in) as police had initially reported but 120cm (3 ft 9 in).

Ms Leeson was 168cm (5ft 5 in) tall.

Prof Leth said it was "highly unlikely" that an adult would have drowned in shallow water.

He was then asked about the bruises found around Ms Leeson’s neck.

Ms Anderson asked what, apart from attempts to get her out of the pool, could have caused the injuries.

Prof Leth said: "It could have been a hand or arm around the neck, some kind of blunt force trauma."

Ms Anderson said: "Some kind of neck lock, using an arm?"

"Yes," Prof Leth replied.

£4.4m estate

Ms Leeson's family want Mr McPherson deprived of any legal entitlement to benefit from life insurance policies or his late wife's will and estate, which is worth £4.4 million.

The court has heard Mr McPherson had taken out £3.5m in secret life insurance policies on his wife.

He was not present or legally represented at the hearing and is believed to be living in the South Pacific.

Ms Leeson's death was initially treated as an accident by the Danish authorities but Mr McPherson was later arrested in the UK as police looked into his financial background.

The court has heard Mr McPherson described as being like a "Walter Mitty" character who had changed his name several times and had 32 convictions spanning 15 years in three countries.

His previous wife and their child died in a house fire while he was locked up in Germany.

view of Norre Nebel street
Ms Leeson was on holiday in the Danish town of Norre Nebel in 2017 [BBC]

Whirlwind romance

Mr McPherson and Ms Leeson married at a ceremony at a Cheshire castle in 2014 after a "whirlwind romance".

He claimed to be a property developer and she oversaw the skip hire part of her family's business, which her father Willy had built up in Sale, Greater Manchester, after emigrating from Ireland in the 1960s.

Ms Leeson and her brother Neville stood to inherit the business.

Mr McPherson told police he woke to find Ms Leeson face down in the pool at a holiday cottage on 6 June 2017.

Within hours, he was transferring thousands of pounds from her accounts to cover his debts, the court heard.

Soon after, Mr McPherson cleared their Sale home of her possessions and joined a bereavement group called Widowed And Young - which he described as "Tinder for widows".

Mr McPherson’s lawyers had argued during his trial that Ms Leeson's injuries could be due to her rescue from the pool and resuscitation attempts.

Pathologists could not rule out that she could have fainted or accidentally fallen into the pool and drowned.

The hearing has been adjourned until Friday.

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