Sophie Cartwright KC represents the family on Judicial Review and Inquest into the death of Paula Leeson

Judicial Review - William Leeson v Area Coroner for South Manchester [2023] EWHC 62 (Admin)

The Coroner has a statutory duty to carry out an investigation to discover the truth about how Ms Leeson came to die.”

On 18th January 2023 the High Court [Lord Justice Dingemans, Mr Justice Fordham and The Chief Coroner of England and Wales HHJ Teague KC] delivered the Judgement in the Judicial Review Claim against the Area Coroner’s Ruling as to Scope in the Inquest touching the death of Paula Leeson.

The High Court accepted the submission of the Family that the Area Coroner’s decision as to Scope was unlawful, irrational and impermissibly narrow.

Paula Leeson was found drowned in an indoor swimming pool in Denmark where she had holidayed with her husband, the first interested party, Donald McPherson

The medical evidence showed that Ms Leeson had drowned, but also showed blunt force injuries on Ms Leeson’s body.

Mr McPherson was prosecuted for the murder of Ms Leeson.

In the criminal proceedings, the case for the prosecution was that Mr McPherson was the beneficiary of excessive life and travel insurance policies which he had taken out on the life of Ms Leeson in the sum of about £3.5 million. Although the medical evidence was consistent either with accident or the unlawful killing of Ms Leeson, the fact of the excessive life insurance policies, and other circumstantial evidence, meant that the jury could be sure that Ms Leeson had been murdered.

Mr McPherson was acquitted after Mr Justice Goose upheld a submission of no case to answer on 18 March 2021 and said: “There are two available possibilities on the evidence:- firstly, that the defendant physically restrained the deceased under water or otherwise overcame her in a struggle or pushed her to cause her to drown; secondly, that the deceased drowned by an accident, whether by a trip, fall or a faint, causing her to fall into the water to drown. 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.”

The Area Coroner resumed the inquest but limited its Scope to:

“In terms of temporal scope … the inquest should consider evidence as to Ms Leeson’s general health and relevant medical history, but will consider events from her arrival on holiday in Denmark until the day of her death, with particular emphasis placed on that day itself.’

The High Court determined that the Coroner’s decision as to Scope was unlawful, irrational and impermissibly narrow and has quashed the ruling as to Scope, remitting the matter to be determined again by the Coroner in accordance with the judgment.

The full judgement can be read here.

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