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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.
 

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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