A popular young man “with the world at his feet” drowned in a canal after a night of mixing alcohol with potentially lethal amounts of ketamine, an inquest heard.
The body of apprentice plumber Matthew Dutton, 22, was found days after he went missing on his way home from the pub in Wigan last summer.
Senior coroner for Manchester West Timothy Brennand described Mr Dutton’s actions on the night of his death as “akin to playing chemical Russian Roulette”.
During the hearing at Bolton Coroner’s Court on Tuesday, the death was recorded as an accident.
On the evening of August 23, 2020, Mr Dutton visited the Oak Tree pub, in Ince, to watch the Champions League final with a group of friends.
According to close pal Callum Jones, Mr Dutton arrived at around 6pm and throughout the course of the night drank approximately two pints of Carlsberg and three alcopops.
Mr Jones claimed to have not seen Mr Dutton take any drugs but admitted: “I knew he’d taken something, he had too much energy and I could tell by his eyes.”
Pub licensee, Nicola Fishwick, said that Mr Dutton appeared to be “tuned in”.
She said that he was staggering and that she had taken his car keys from him, as she didn’t want him driving home.
At around 10pm, Mr Dutton left the pub with his friend Michael Reardon and the pair started to walk down Belle Green Lane.
Mr Reardon said that during the night, Mr Dutton and himself had taken ketamine in Mr Dutton’s car.
He added: “We met up earlier in day for food, me, Regan and Matt, then we went to the pub but I’m not sure what time.
“Matt brought the drugs but I don’t know where he got it from.
“We have had it together before, a couple of times on weekends. Not every weekend but sometimes when we have drinks.”
Asked to describe the effects of how ketamine makes you feel, Mr Reardon said: “Very drunk and very disorderly.
“It gives you a bit of a buzz. You like black out when you mix it with alcohol.”
The pair eventually made their way to Manchester Road passing driver Danielle Halliwell who stopped at a zebra crossing to let them past.
She described Mr Dutton as “walking like a robot, struggling to put one foot in front of the other”.
Ms Halliwell noted that both men appeared to be incredibly drunk and appeared to not be speaking to each other, instead focusing on walking.
A police statement, prepared by DI John Davies and read out in court by police coroner’s officer Stefan Wilson, states that the last sighting of Mr Dutton was at 10.25pm, heading towards the canal from Manchester Road.
The last activity from his phone was recorded at 10.56pm.
Mr Reardon said that he has no memory of leaving the pub and said that he tried to call Mr Dutton when he “came round” and realised he was no longer with him, shortly after 11pm.
Greater Manchester Police carried out a search operation to try to find Mr Dutton and spent around 36 hours searching the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
His body was found by an undercover search team, close to Lock 79, Rose Bridge, on August 26.
Following a post mortem, pathologist Dr Emil Salmo recorded ‘drowning’ as the medical cause of death.
He said that there were no suspicious circumstances, no sign of third party involvement and no signs that Mr Dutton had attempted to climb out of the canal and failed.
Dr Salmo added: “Drowning can occur very quickly, especially if they go into cold water, as it can lead to reflex cardiac arrest.”
A toxicology report prepared by Julie Evans stated that Mr Dutton had alcohol and a significant amount of ketamine in his system at the time of his death.
She added: “There is a possibility of direct toxicity arising from ketamine as an explanation for death, or use could have affected his behaviour leading to the risk of accidental drowning.”
Mr Dutton tested negative for all drugs other than ketamine.
Mother Jacqueline Peet told the court that Mr Dutton was “popular” and a “joker”.
She said that he was a “family man” and had two nephews who he “absolutely doted on”.
Ms Peet agreed with Mr Brennand’s assertion that Mr Dutton “worked hard and played hard”, but she said that she did not know the extent of his drug use.
She added that she was “very proud” of him.
Father Mark Dutton added: “I knew that he experimented but I’d had some quite strong discussions about not doing it and he assured me that he didn’t.
“He would look forward to the weekend after working hard in the week.”
He also praised the police for their handling of the case.
“We cannot fault them,” he added. “They’ve been amazing.”
Recording a conclusion of accidental death, Mr Brennand said: “By reason of the deceased’s self induced intoxication, he became incapacitated, confused and disorientated while trying to walk home, falling into the canal and drowning.
“Matthew John Dutton was described by his parents as someone who had the world at his feet.
A young man who was in the final year of his plumbing apprenticeship, he was hard-working, popular, and gregarious.
“Taking any substances that have the potential to incapacitate, disorient or confuse you is akin to playing a game of chemical Russian roulette.
“Matthew had consumed enough ketamine which of itself was potentially lethal but even if the drug itself doesn’t kill you, what it has the capacity to do is so incapacitating that you become unable to perform a simple task such as walking home.
“I daresay that the parents’ message would be that use of ketamine, as far as their son is concerned, has led to this tragedy.
“If one person understands by reading the events that bring us together at this inquest, then at least some good will come out of it.”
In the days following his death, Mr Dutton’s sister Lisa remembered the ‘caring’ and ‘devoted’ young man.
She said: “The outpouring of love and support that the family have received has been overwhelming.
“Matthew Dutton was the most amazing brother, son, grandson, cousin, nephew, uncle and friend that anyone could have wanted.
“Everyone who knew him knew how much he could annoy and torment but I was privileged to know the kind caring side, who was completely devoted to his nephews and they absolutely adored him.
“Words cannot express how deeply heartbroken the whole family are, all our lives will forever be missing his shining smile and I’d give anything to have him here telling me a dodgy joke or raiding the cupboards.”