Northern Ireland

Bertie Acheson death: Burglar Paul Toland jailed for killing pensioner

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBertie Acheson, who was the main carer for his disabled wife Sheila, died from a heart attack after struggling with a burglar who had previously carried out work in the couple's home

A man has been jailed for four and a half years for killing a pensioner during a botched burglary at an elderly couple's home in County Londonderry.

Bertie Acheson, who was 72, died after a confrontation with the intruder at his home in Glenmore Gardens, Coleraine, in April 2012.

Paul James Manolito Toland, originally of The Cedars, Antrim, had pleaded guilty to Mr Acheson's manslaughter.

After his release he must serve a further four and half years on licence.

Toland, a father of four, has 18 previous convictions for burglary.

'Heart attack'

He was confronted by his victim after he broke into the couple's home to steal money.

There was a struggle and Mr Acheson, who cared for his disabled wife Sheila, suffered a heart attack and died on his kitchen floor.

Speaking after the sentencing, the senior investigating officer in the case said the Acheson family had been left "devastated" by his loss, particularly his widow.

Det Ch Insp Ian Harrison said the fact that Toland was sentenced on what would have been Mr Acheson's 75th birthday had a "double impact" on the pensioner's loved ones.

'Predator'

"A person who I deem to be dangerous has now been taken off the streets and people can now feel safe in their homes," the officer said.

"Paul Toland was a predator. He preyed on the vulnerable and elderly and equally infirm couple who had been married for 44 years. His actions resulted in the death of Bertie Acheson, for just over £300."

An earlier court hearing was told that the couple were woken up by the sound of breaking glass in the early hours of 20 April 2012.

Mr Acheson went to investigate. His widow later told police she overheard a verbal altercation between her husband and an intruder, during which money was demanded.

Mrs Acheson claimed she also heard the sound of a scuffle and gasping for breath. She managed to raise the alarm, but when ambulance personnel and police arrived at the scene, her husband was already dead.

Toland had originally been charged with Mr Acheson's murder, but at a court hearing in October, a defence lawyer asked that his client be re-arraigned. Toland told Belfast Crown Court that he was not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter.

'Greed'

He also admitted the robbery of Mrs Acheson, who had £335 stolen from her purse during the burglary.

Det Ch Insp Harrison paid tribute to the courage and resilience of the pensioner's family throughout the "long and protracted inquiry".

The officer said that Toland had been in the couple's house the previous month to repair a vacuum cleaner and had been paid in cash.

"We believe that Toland's greed brought him back to the house in the expectation that he could break in and steal whatever cash he could get his hands on," Det Ch Insp Harrison added.

He appealed to the public not to store cash at home saying they were exposing themselves to "unnecessary risk".

"In memory of Bertie Acheson, and to avoid the pain still being suffered by his family, please do not keep large amounts of money at home," the officer said.

More on this story