A CALLOUS thief stole a man’s bike as he lay dying in a canal just yards away, a Leeds inquest has heard.
“Despicable” Adam Lowther, 22, took the bicycle belonging to Michael Houghton, 51, without stopping to help the cyclist who was lying face down in the stretch of water.
The inquest was told Lowther didn’t call for help because he had run out of battery charge on his phone but instead rode off on the bike before selling it for just £20.
Mr Houghton, a married father-of-three, was on a daily cycle ride from his home in Horsforth to Leeds city centre along the Leeds-Liverpool canal when he ended up in the water last July.
The inquest heard that the towpath had eroded near where the retired banker was found and it appears he may have slipped off the path and ended up in the shallow water, which was 2-3ft deep and had a number of large boulders in it.
Lowther told the hearing at Leeds Coroner’s Court on Thursday that he did nothing to help because he assumed Mr Houghton was already dead when he took the bike before hiding his own cycle, which had a puncture, in some bushes along the towpath.
But ten minutes later, at 6.50pm cyclist James Atkinson and jogger William Bentall saw Mr Houghton, got him out of the water and gave him CPR until paramedics arrived.
The coroner said Lowther could have alerted emergency services to Mr Houghton even after he had pedalled away on the dying man’s bike.
He said: “The fact that he didn’t shows what a thoroughly cowardly and despicable young man he is in contrast with the two that did.”
Mr Houghton was taken by air ambulance to Leeds General Infirmary, but died three days later.
Lowther, who claimed the battery on his mobile phone had died, cycled home and did an internet search to see how much the stolen bike was worth, the inquest heard.
He took the Apollo Vortice bike, which he thought was worth £150, to a pawnbroker’s shop and sold it for £20.
Lowther was initially arrested for murder after police traced him when he had given his own details in a tenancy agreement to the pawnbroker when he sold the bike, a move which a police officer branded “stupid”.
He first told police he had not seen Mr Houghton in the water and if he had he would have helped him. He later admitted he had seen the cyclist, but claimed he thought he was already dead.
Lowther was later bailed and charged with theft of the bike. He appeared before Leeds Magistrates’ Court on November 11 last year and was jailed for four months. He has since finished his sentence.
The thief said he had given his own details because he had done nothing wrong and had not been involved in Mr Houghton’s death.
He told the inquest: “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.
“I had nothing to hide. I knew I didn’t do anything. All I did was take the bike.”
When the coroner asked if he had stolen the bike to feed a drug habit, he said he had smoked cannabis in the past but claimed had taken the bike to buy food.
He said he had taken the bike because it was resting on the towpath. He said: “It didn’t suggest to me that anybody had fallen off it.”
Addressing Mr Houghton’s distraught family, Lowther said: “I’m really sorry for your loss. I didn’t mean it. I made a stupid mistake.”
But he callously added: “I’m not a thief. I found a push bike, I didn’t see the body in the water until I had got on the bike.”
Mr Houghton’s widow accused Lowther of being a liar, but the thief said he hadn’t realised he had committed a crime by taking the bike.
Giving evidence, Det Insp Martin Hepworth said: “Had there been an offence for not being a Good Samaritan as there is in France, I would have charged him for that, but there is not.”
He added: “It isn’t just a matter of being public spirited, its a matter of public duty.”
A post-mortem revealed Mr Houghton suffered brain damage caused by drowning.
Recording an open verdict, Coroner David Hinchliff said there were many explanations for how Mr Houghton came to be in the water, including the fact he had been drinking and may have been unsteady on his bike.
He said: “What leaves, I think, a nasty taste in everybody’s mouth is an opportunistic thief came along, saw him in the water, believed he was dead, and choosing to do nothing, saw an opportunity to steal his cycle.”
He added that the decent thing to do would be to alert someone to Mr Houghton’s plight, even if it had made no difference to the outcome.
He said: “What makes this all the more unpleasant and callous was that he was perfectly prepared to steal a cycle while leaving someone in the water.”
Mr Houghton had retired at the age of 49 from his work as a businessman in the banking and car sales sectors to care for his disabled wife of seven years.