A ‘cowardly and despicable’ thief stole a man’s bike as he lay drowning in a canal just yards away.
Adam Lowther, 22, rode away on Michael Houghton’s mountain bike after spotting him lying face down in a stretch of the Leeds Liverpool canal at Kirkstall last summer.
Lowther was later traced by murder squad detectives after selling the bike for just £20 at a local second hand shop.
He was locked up for four months for the theft after he admitted to police that he has seen retired banker Mr Houghton, 51, unconscious in the water and had left him. He said he assumed he was dead.
An inquest at Leeds Coroner’s Court heard yesterday that Mr Houghton, of Glenwood Villas, Horsforth, Leeds, had been on his regular bike ride along the canal towpath on the evening of July 29 last year.
The successful businessman, who had alcohol in his system, came off his bike and went into the three-feet deep water, possibly striking rocks under the surface.
Some time later, Lowther came riding along the same stretch on his own bike, which had a flat tyre, and spotted Mr Houghton’s Apollo Vortice bike. Giving evidence yesterday, Lowther 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.”
Lowther told the court that the battery on his mobile phone had run out but confirmed he did not alert anyone else to what he had seen.
Shortly before 7pm that evening, a jogger and a cyclistcame across Mr Houghton’s
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body in the water, dragged him clear, administering first aid and contacting emergency services.
Mr Houghton, a married father of three, was airlifted alive to Leeds General Infirmary and placed on life support.
Despite the best efforts of medics, he was pronounced dead just before 9pm on August 2.
A post-mortem report gave his cause of death as brain damage caused by drowning.
Giving evidence, Detective Inspector Martin Hepworth of West Yorkshire Police’s Homicide and Major Enquiries Team (HMET) said police launched an extensive hunt to find the missing bike, eventually arresting Lowther on suspicion of murder.
Lowther initially denied having seen Mr Houghton in the water but later admitted he had. He was jailed for theft at Leeds Crown Court last year.
Det Insp Hepworth told the court: “Had there been an offence of not being a good Samaritan as there is in France, I would have charged him with that.”
Speaking to Mr Houghton’s family, some of whom wept as they heard evidence, Lowther said: “I’m really sorry for your loss. I made a stupid mistake and I won’t be doing anything like that again.”
Recording an open verdict, West Yorkshire Coroner David Hinchliff said Lowther could have acted to get Mr Houghton out of the water.
He added: “The fact he didn’t just shows what a thoroughly cowardly and despicable young man he is.”