Inquest hears how "cowardly and despicable" thief stole drowning cyclist's bike
22-year-old who served four months in jail for theft claims he thought cyclist was already dead

A coroner’s inquest in Leeds has heard how a thief left a cyclist to drown in a canal, taking his bike and riding away on it, his explanation being that he thought – wrongly – that the rider was already dead. The cyclist, 51-year-old retired banker Michael Houghton, died four days later in hospital, reports the Yorkshire Post.

At the inquest at Leeds Coroner’s Court this week, the court heard how Adam Lowther, aged 22, had been cycling along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal at Kirkstall on the evening of 29 July 2011 when he found Mr Houghton’s Apollo mountain bike.

Lowther’s own bike had a flat tyre, and he told the court: “I picked up this bike and was just about to get on it and I noticed in the canal a dead body. I was shocked so I rode off.”

He claimed that he was unable to alert anyone to the cyclist in the canal because his mobile phone battery had run out.

Police later traced Lowther after he sold he bike to a second-hand shop for £20 and he served four months in prison for theft. When he was arrested, he initially claimed he had not seen the cyclist, but admitted later that he had.

During this week’s inquest, Detective Inspector Martin Hepworth from West Yorkshire Police’s Homicide and Major Enquiries Team described how the police had carried out a huge search for Mr Houghton’s bike, and that they had initially arrested Lowther on suspicion of murder.

“Had there been an offence of not being a good Samaritan as there is in France, I would have charged him with that,” he added.

The inquest was told that Mr Houghton, a father of three who lived in Garforth, regularly rode along the towpath.

It is not known what caused him to fall into the canal, although the inquest heard that alcohol was found in his system.

At the point where Mr Houghton was discovered at 7pm that evening by a jogger and a cyclist, face down and unconscious but still alive, the water was three feet deep and it is believed that he may have struck rocks on the bottom.

The pair pulled Mr Houghton from the water and gave him first aid and he was taken by helicopter to Leeds General Infirmary, where he died on the evening of 2 August, with a post mortem recording the cause of death as brain damage caused by drowning.

At the inquest, Lowther told Mr Houghton’s family: “I’m really sorry for your loss. I made a stupid mistake and I won’t be doing anything like that again.”

However, in recording an open verdict West Yorkshire Coroner David Hinchliff emphasised that he could have done something to get the cyclist out of the water.

“The fact he didn’t just shows what a thoroughly cowardly and despicable young man he is,” he added.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.


londonplayer [620 posts] 3 years ago

You have to admire the fact that the police found the bike.

phy2sll [31 posts] 3 years ago

As others have said elsewhere, I can imagine exactly how Mr Houghton ended up in the canal. Very difficult for the police to prove, though.

hairyairey [295 posts] 3 years ago

On the balance of probabilities phy2sll it's quite obvious how he ended up in the canal however proving it beyond reasonable doubt is much harder.

andylul [410 posts] 3 years ago

One of the things I find astounding about this is that this wretched boy had decided that taking another's bike was an acceptable alternative to mending a puncture or walking.

Another is that he found it seemingly impossible to raise the alarm on anything other than his own flat-battery mobile phone - public call boxes, local shops, other members of the public?

I hope his lack of humanity haunts him for the rest of his days - he may not have been able to help the poor man in the canal, but it appears from the evidence that he didn't even try.

OldRidgeback [2538 posts] 3 years ago

Terrible story - and there are questions over how the poor guy ended up in the canal that we'll probably ever know the answer to