Belfast Telegraph

Estranged couple now face murder charge over death of OAP in burglary

BY MICHAEL DONNELLY

A former husband and wife are to go on trial accused of murdering a Coleraine pensioner during a burglary at his home.

Paul James Manolito Toland (40), of The Cedars, Co Antrim, and 24-year-old mother-of-two Jennifer Toland had initially been accused of the manslaughter of 72-year-old Bertie Acheson (right) nearly two years ago.

But during a short preliminary inquiry held yesterday, Ballymena District Judge Desmond Perry returned the pair for trial on the more serious charge of murder. The former couple are now estranged.

Watched by Mr Acheson's grieving daughter Sandra, supported by her husband and friends, defence lawyers Aaron Thompson and Johnathan Browne acknowledged "there were no issues", before their clients were returned on continuing bail to appear before Belfast Crown Court next month.

In addition to being charged with the murder of the 72-year-old Coleraine pensioner on April 30, 2012, the pair were also returned for trial accused of robbing his disabled wife Sheila of a purse containing £335 in cash. Although no details were given to Ballymena Magistrates Court, the court had previously heard that DNA, allegedly from Toland, a maintenance engineer and a father-of-three, was found on a brick said to have been used to smash a window in the pensioners' Glenmore Gardens home.

A police officer had also told one hearing that Mr Acheson and his wife were woken up by the sound of breaking glass in the early hours of the morning.

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 dead.

At the time of the break-in it was reported that Mr Acheson, who was found lying on the kitchen floor of his home, had died of a heart attack.

A post-mortem later confirmed this.

BACKGROUND

Bertie Acheson (72) collapsed and died after confronting an intruder in his home in Coleraine. A post mortem examination found he died of a heart attack. Leaving him for dead, the burglar then snatched a purse containing cash belonging to Mr Acheson's wife Sheila (70), who was in the bedroom of the couple's Glenmore Gardens home. Mrs Acheson suffers from severe arthritis and her husband was her primary carer at that time. She managed to raise the alarm during the burglary, calling police and ambulance personnel to the home, but her husband was dead.

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