Louis Browne KC acts in high profile case considering scope of inquest

January 20, 2023

Louis Browne KC from Exchange Chambers has acted in a high-profile case considering the scope of an inquest into the death of a 47-year-old woman.

Paula Leeson drowned in a 4ft deep swimming pool in 2017 while on holiday with her husband, Donald McPherson, in Denmark.

Mr McPherson was prosecuted for his wife’s murder.   The crown’s case at trial was that he had taken out a number of insurance policies on the life of Ms Leeson to the sum of £3.5m, of which he was the beneficiary, and this was circumstantial evidence which meant the jury could be sure she was murdered.

However, Mr McPherson was cleared at Manchester Crown Court in March 2021, after the trial judge upheld a submission of no case to answer on the basis that the jury could not be sure on the medical evidence.

Following the trial, the coroner for Manchester South held a pre-inquest review in August, of the same year.

He concluded that the inquest would only consider evidence from the time Ms Leeson arrived in Denmark until the day of her death.

This decision was challenged by Ms Leeson’s father who took the case to the High Court saying it was irrational and unlawful to exclude much of the circumstantial evidence and the evidence about Mr McPherson taking out the excessive insurance policies.

Giving the High Court’s decision, Lord Justice Dingemans quashed the coroner’s ruling on the scope of the inquest, saying it was “not a lawful one”.

The judge, who heard the case with Mr Justice Fordham and chief coroner Judge Edward Teague, said:

“In my judgment it was not rational to limit the evidence to be called at the inquest to the period from when Ms Leeson arrived in Denmark until the day of her death.

“This is because the ruling excluded evidence about matters which had occurred before Ms Leeson’s arrival in Denmark, and evidence about matters which had occurred after her death, which was relevant to the issue of whether Ms Leeson had suffered an accidental death or had been unlawfully killed.”

The judge sent the case back to the coroner for the decision to be remade, in light of the observations in the High Court ruling.

Louis Browne KC, acting for the first interested party, Donald McPherson, was instructed by Draycott Browne Solicitors.