Belfast Telegraph

Nine years for thug who killed Bertie Acheson but he'll serve only half in prison

By Chris Kilpatrick

The killer of a pensioner who died after a violent robbery at his home was jailed for four-and-a-half years on what should have been the victim's 75th birthday.

Bertie Acheson (72) died after an altercation with Paul James Manolito Toland, who had previously been to his property to service his vacuum cleaner.

Having seen around £2,000 cash in the house, Toland - who had 18 previous criminal convictions dating from when he was just 15 - returned and broke into the property.

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.

Mr Acheson sustained a broken nose, cuts and bruises and a fracture to cartilage in his neck after the altercation with Toland in his Coleraine home. He died of a heart attack. Toland was yesterday sentenced to nine years, half of which he will spend in prison and the remainder on licence on his release.

A senior police officer said Toland was a predator.

"What was purely behind Paul Toland's actions was greed," DCI Ian Harrison said outside the court.

"Sheila Acheson has not been able to return to her family home.

"Bertie was her soulmate, her carer and they had the rest of their lives to live together. Paul Toland stole that from them."

Judge Mr Justice Weir said he was restricted in terms of the prison term handed down to Toland by sentencing guidelines. The senior judge said, unknown to Mr Acheson, Toland was the last person he should have revealed the cash in his home to.

He said Mr Acheson had gone to investigate having heard the sound of breaking glass in the early hours of April 30, 2012.

Mrs Acheson, who suffers from arthritis, heard a scuffle before being confronted in her bedroom by Toland who demanded money and threatened to kill her husband.

She handed over her purse containing £335 and called her daughter and son-in-law. Despite their best efforts, Mr Acheson - found face-down on the kitchen floor - was pronounced dead a short time later.

Mr Justice Weir said the consequences of Toland's actions were "catastrophic". He said he had robbed the couple of "happy years together" and Mrs Acheson of her lifelong companion.

Referring to Toland's previous criminal record, the judge said the temptation of Mr Acheson's money revived his past "dishonest propensity". He said the robbery was a gross breach of trust.

"These are despicable crimes," the judge added.

He said the nine-year sentence was "the greatest period the law allows me to impose".

A post-mortem revealed Mr Acheson died of "coronary artery atheroma in association with pressure on his neck, and emotional and physical stress".

The pathologist's view was that the emotional stress of finding an intruder in his home, coupled with the physical stress of being involved in a struggle with the intruder, played their parts in precipitating a heart attack.

Toland showed little emotion as the sentence was passed.

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Outside court, the senior investigating police officer in the case, DCI Ian Harrison, said the Acheson family was devastated. The officer added: "His sentence of nine years should serve as a warning to those who violate a family home with tragic consequences that they will be caught and they will face a long term of imprisonment. People in Coleraine and other towns should feel safer in their homes now that Paul Toland is behind bars."

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