Belfast Telegraph

Estranged wife of Coleraine pensioner's killer cleared of murder

By Michael Donnelly

A pregnant 25-year-old mother has been cleared of the murder of pensioner Bertie Acheson and robbing his wife in the couple's home.

Jennifer Toland was acquitted of killing the 72-year-old man in Coleraine in April 2012 after the prosecution offered no evidence against her.

Ms Toland was also cleared of robbing Mr Acheson's disabled wife Sheila in the couple's Glenmore Gardens home.

The mother-of-two is the estranged wife of a 41-year-old Antrim man who admitted the manslaughter of Mr Acheson.

A murder charge against Paul James Manolito Toland was dropped after he pleaded guilty last month to Mr Acheson's unlawful killing and taking £335 from his disabled wife's purse.

Prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy told Mr Justice Weir that they were "offering no evidence" on both of the two charges against Ms Toland.

Ms Toland, originally from The Cedars in Antrim, had been expected to go on trial at Belfast Crown Court. But after the prosecution's decision not to offer evidence against her, a jury was sworn in and directed by Mr Justice Weir that they should find her not guilty of murder and robbery.

Following her acquittal, Ms Toland said she was "grateful that the ordeal of this court case is concluded with her good character intact and the allegations against her finally dismissed". She said that the "complex prosecution case" against her had involved "DNA evidence which we were able to successfully challenge".

Ms Toland's estranged husband is in custody and is expected to be sentenced early next month.

Mr Acheson's daughter Sandra had been in court for Paul Toland's manslaughter plea, but was not present yesterday for his wife's acquittal.

A police officer told a previous hearing that Mr Acheson and his wife Sheila had been woken up by the sound of breaking glass on the night he was killed.

The pensioner went to investigate and confronted the housebreaker.

Mrs Acheson later told police she overheard a verbal altercation between her husband and an intruder, during which money was demanded.

The officer said that Mrs Acheson, who suffers from arthritis, said she had heard the sound of a scuffle and gasping for breath.

However, by the time the ambulance personnel and police arrived after she had raised the alarm, her husband, found on the kitchen floor, was already dead.

A post mortem examination found he died of a heart attack.

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