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A property developer accused of drowning his wealthy heiress wife has been found not guilty of murder at Manchester Crown Court.

Donald McPherson, 47, was acquitted of killing Paula Leeson on the direction of judge Mr Justice Goose who halted his trial after ruling there is insufficient evidence for a jury to convict him.

Following his acquittal Mr McPherson said his wife died in a tragic accident and it saddened him that ‘the events in question should ever have been seen differently’.

The trial heard Ms Leeson, 47, drowned in a four-foot deep swimming pool at a holiday cottage while the couple were on a break in Denmark in June 2017.

The otherwise healthy mother-of-one had 13 separate injuries to her arms and head, a post-mortem showed.

Pathologists said these may have been sustained while being restrained or in a rescue and resuscitation attempt and could not rule out accidental death.

Stopping the trial in its third week, Mr Justice Goose said there were two available possibilities: firstly, the defendant restrained his wife under water or overcame her in a struggle or pushed her to cause her to drown.

Or secondly, Paula Leeson drowned by an accident, by a trip, fall or a faint, causing her to fall into the water.

He added: “Whilst the first of those alternatives is clearly more likely, that does not mean that a jury, on the face of the pathological evidence alone, could be sure of it.”

As the ruling was given to halt the trial, Ms Leeson’s dad, Irish businessman Willy Leeson, broke down in tears along with his wife, Betty.

He shouted: “Oh God! Oh God! Unbelievable! Shame on you Don!”

His son Neville Leeson, shouted to the judge: “God Almighty, you are making a big mistake!”

The trial had heard that the couple, from Sale, Greater Manchester got married 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.

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.

Mr McPherson, born Alexander James Lang in Takapuna, New Zealand, had denied murder.

Following his acquittal Mr McPherson released a statement through his solicitors.

It reads: “On the 6th of June 2017, a terrible accident occurred in Norre Nebel, Denmark, that led to the death of my wife, Paula Leeson.

“A tragic accident is what it was and it saddens me, deeply, that the events in question should ever have been seen differently and that I was ever suspected of playing a part in Paula’s death.”