Belfast Telegraph

An act of trust ruthlessly exploited by a lifelong criminal

By Chris Kilpatrick

It was an act of trust that would be ruthlessly exploited and lead to the death of Bertie Acheson in his own home.

Paul Toland, a father-of-four, was employed as a service engineer for a vacuum sales and repair business.

Unknown to his employers and customers who welcomed him into their homes, he had a lengthy criminal record stretching back to his teens.

In March 2012 Toland arrived at Bertie and Sheila Acheson's Coleraine property. They agreed to update their vacuum, paying out more than £1,300.

The 72-year-old Mr Acheson - who cared for his disabled wife of 44 years - told Toland he had money above a cupboard and said he could use a stool to reach it down.

The sight of around £2,000 in cash planted the seed for Toland to ultimately commit his horrendous crime, as a result of which Mr Acheson would lose his life and Sheila would be robbed of her life-long companion.

The following month the couple returned home from visiting their daughter's house.

Laganside Crown Court was told Mr Acheson and his wife had been woken up by the sound of breaking glass on the night he was killed.

The pensioner went to investigate and encountered the intruder after 1am.

Mrs Acheson overheard a verbal altercation between her husband and the intruder. She said she heard the man saying: "I want money, I want money."

Mr Acheson replied: "I'll give you the keys to the car, take what you want."

Toland then entered the bedroom and told Mrs Acheson to give him money or he would kill her husband.

Using a walking stick to get out of bed, Mrs Acheson lifted her purse out of her bag, which Toland grabbed before fleeing. The purse contained £335 in cash.

By the time the ambulance personnel and police arrived Mr Acheson was already dead.

A post-mortem examination found he died of a heart attack. The court was told an underlying heart problem had been exacerbated by the stress of the confrontation and struggle.

Injuries to Mr Acheson's neck were sufficient with having been grabbed or choked, with his facial injuries believed to have been the result of being punched.

Toland, originally of The Cedars in Antrim, was due to stand trial for murder but that charge was dropped after he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter as well as robbery last month. Members of the Acheson family were too distressed to comment after yesterday's sentencing.

They should have been spending the day with Bertie on what would have been his 75th birthday.

Speaking previously, his step-daughter Sandra Creelman said the intruder "ruined so many lives in the space of half-an-hour".

"How can I ever come to terms with how my father was brutally attacked and killed in his own home?" she said.

"You expect to lose your parents as they get older; never in a million years do you expect to lose them like this. It's a nightmare."

Senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Ian Harrison, said the Achesons were still devastated.

"Foremost in our thoughts today are Bertie Acheson's family," he said. "The events in the early hours of Monday April 30, 2012 robbed them of a much-loved husband, father and friend who is sadly missed to this day.

"Toland broke in but he woke Bertie and Sheila. Bertie confronted him in the kitchen where Toland demanded money. There was a struggle and Bertie suffered a fatal heart attack. Toland then went into the bedroom where he threatened Sheila before grabbing her purse and making off with £335.

"He made off with money but he left behind a heartbroken family."

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