Belfast Telegraph

Man pleads guilty to killing pensioner Bertie in his home

By Michael Donnelly

A 41-year-old Antrim man has pleaded guilty to the unlawful killing of Coleraine pensioner Bertie Acheson in his home in April 2012.

Paul James Manolito Toland, originally of The Cedars, Antrim, had been accused of the murder of the 72-year-old and robbing his disabled wife Shelia of £335, taken from her purse.

Mr Acheson, who had been married for 44 years, was his wife's main carer.

But at Belfast Crown Court yesterday Toland's defence QC Gavin Duffy asked for him to be rearraigned on both charges.

When the murder charge was put to him, Toland, smartly dressed in a white shirt, tie and grey suit pants, replied that he was not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter.

He then also admitted the robbery.

Following his guilty plea, prosecution QC Ciaran Murphy told the court that it was acceptable to the Crown and asked for the murder charge to remain on the books.

Mr Justice Weir remanded Toland back into custody for his case to be dealt with at the end of the trial of his wife, 25-year-old mother-of-two Jennifer Toland.

She was not present in court, and still faces a trial for the murder of the pensioner.

Her case is to be mentioned for review in a fortnight's time.

Sitting in the public gallery, just feet from Toland, watching him as he pleaded guilty to the unlawful killing of her father, was Mr Acheson's daughter Sandra.

She was supported by her husband and a few friends.

Although no details were given to the court, a previous hearing was told that DNA, allegedly from Toland, a maintenance engineer, and a father-of-three, was discovered on a brick said to have been used to smash a window in the pensioner's Glenmore Gardens home. A police officer had also told an earlier hearing that Mr Acheson and his wife were woken from their sleep by the sound of breaking glass in the early hours of April 20, 2012. The pensioner went to investigate.

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 further claimed she also heard the sound of a scuffle and gasping for breath.

However, when she managed to raise the alarm, and ambulance personnel and police arrived, her husband was found dead of a heart attack on the kitchen floor.

Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of Mr Acheson on May 5. Rev Hugh Mullan, who conducted the service, described the deceased as a devoted, decent man. He was buried in Second Dunboe Presbyterian Church in Coleraine.

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