REGINA VS. DONALD McPHERSON

MANCHESTER CROWN COURT, CROWN SQUARE. TRIAL: 1ST MARCH 2021 – 18TH MARCH 2021.

On the 20th April 2018, I travelled to Ashton Police Station, east of Manchester, in order to represent Donald McPherson, who, having met with the Police voluntarily, had been arrested on suspicion of murder. The alleged offence involved the death by drowning of Mr. McPherson’s wife, Paul Leeson. Mrs. Leeson died on the 6th June 2017 in a swimming pool positioned inside a holiday cottage in the town of Norre Nebel, Denmark.

The circumstances of Mrs. Leeson’s death had already been investigated by the Danish Police and they had decided to take no further action against Mr. McPherson. They had been aided, perhaps, by two Pathologists who had concluded that Mrs. Leeson had drowned, they presumed, by accident.

The findings of the Danish Pathologists were confirmed (ultimately by three more Pathologists) in the UK but that did not prevent the commencement of the Police investigation that led to Mr. McPherson’s arrest.

Mr. McPherson was interviewed in my presence and he provided as much information as he could with reference to the events of the day in question. He was then bailed pending further Police enquiries.

Mr. McPherson, who was born in New Zealand in 1973, stayed in contact with me in the weeks and months after his arrest. Mr. McPherson was fortunate to be able to meet the costs of Draycott Browne on a private fee paying basis. That allowed me to offer him the sort of attentive and professional “one to one” service that his case demanded. It allowed me to advise him regularly throughout the two year period that he remained on Police bail. Not only was I able to maintain a close focus on the Police investigation, I was also able to assist and represent Mr. McPherson in relation to account freezing order proceedings taken out in accordance with Section 303Z4 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Sadly, such attention to the detail of Mr. McPherson’s case would not have been possible had he have been reliant on public funding in the two year period after his initial arrest. The Legal Aid Agency has repeatedly made it clear that it will not pay for what is often referred to as a “Rolls Royce” service.

Mr. McPherson was further arrested and interviewed, again in my presence, in October 2018 and then in January and November of 2019 before being charged with the murder of Paula Leeson in April 2020. At that point, he was remanded into custody, initially to HMP Altcourse in Liverpool and then to HMP Forest Bank in Salford. He remained in custody, on remand, until the commencement of his trial on the 1st March 2021.

I made many attendances upon Mr. McPherson during his time in custody to ensure that his case was fully prepared for trial. I appointed John Ryder QC and Ian McMeekin of counsel to join the defence team. Senior Litigators from Draycott Browne Limited also played their part, handling the analysis of specific elements of the case that were potentially of concern and Venessa Schweitzer of Venessa Schweitzer Legal Services was engaged, specifically, in relation to the consideration of complex data obtained from Mr. McPherson’s mobile telephone.

The trial proceeded before Mr. Justice Goose, sitting at Manchester Crown Court, Crown Square, between the 1st and the 18th March 2021. It was on the 16th March, at the end of the prosecution case, that a submission was made to the Judge that Mr. McPherson had no case to answer. The submission was based on the finding of the Pathologists, all of whom had concluded that whilst certain minor injuries identified to the body of Mrs. Leeson could have been caused by consequence of her being restrained, it was also possible that they had been caused as a result of Mr. McPherson’s efforts to remove her from the pool and the attempts at CPR that followed.

By this point in the trial, as has been widely reported, the Jury had heard evidence of so-called bad character in relation to Mr. McPherson. Much of that evidence had been disputed though that was of no consequence to our submission that the case ought not to continue.

It was inappropriate, we argued, for any evidence of bad character and for any evidence of Mr. McPherson’s apparent dishonesty to be relied upon by the prosecution in order to render more likely the more sinister of the two possible reasons for Mrs. Leeson’s death.

We made reference to a series of relevant cases that supported our submission, notably the Court of Appeal judgement in Bassett v R [2020] EWCA Crim 1376.

On the 17th March 2021, Mr. Justice Goose ruled in our favour, concluding that Mr. McPherson had no case to answer. There was to be no appeal against his carefully drafted and thorough ruling and on the 18th March 2021, a verdict of not guilty was formally returned by the Jury