Wigan dad issues laughing gas warning after son's tragic death

Matthew Barnett
Matthew Barnett
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A young Wigan man accidentally suffocated himself with laughing gas as he tried to get an auto-erotic kick out it, an inquest heard.


The devastated father of Matthew Barnett said the tragedy should serve as a warning to others as far as dabbling with this over-the-counter substance is concerned.

Matthew Barnett

Matthew Barnett

Matthew was just 23 when he was found dead by his parents at the family home in Millwood Close, Ashton, in November 2017.

The aircraft engineering apprentice, who was described by his dad Adrian as the “perfect son”, was discovered in his bedroom wearing a gas mask hooked up to a canister of nitrous oxide.

During his inquest at Bolton Coroners Court, coroner Timothy Brennand heard that the former Wigan and Leigh College student had died “within a matter of seconds” of inhaling.

Pathologist Dr Naveen Sharma, who conducted a post-mortem examination, explained that in rare cases, nitrous oxide can cause the brain to swell which represses the respiratory system resulting in hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in the body.

Matthew’s grieving family, recalled his “helpful and kind” nature saying he was “living out life with everything to live for”.

Mr Brennand heard how on November 12, Matthew had been at the house where he lived with Adrian and mum Diane.

In the hours before his death, he had offered to help a friend with his Volkswagen van, an area of engineering in which Matthew showed a particular interest.

He arrived home from his partner Oliver Lambley’s house at around 11.50am and was in the house with his sister Natasha until around 1.20pm when she left for work.

Tragically he was found dead around 15 minutes later by his parents, who had arrived home and found him on the bedroom floor.

They removed the gas mask in an attempt to resuscitate him but he was pronounced dead by paramedics shortly after.

Oliver, whom Matthew had been dating for around a year at the time of his death, explained that his boyfriend would not be the type of person to become addicted to drugs or alcohol and that he “had a good sense of when things were good for him or bad for him”.

According to Oliver, Matthew was not a user of recreational drugs, but he added: “He was somebody who would be prepared to experiment for recreational purposes.”

The court heard how a police investigation into Matthew’s death concluded that he had been taking part in “auto-eroticism” of a sexual nature just before the incident.

“He was a young man who in the privacy of his own bedroom, engaged in an act of misadventure,” added Mr Brennand.

“Nitrous oxide has the potential to be lethal, this case proves as much.”

His dad said: “I can’t believe you can buy this stuff. Don’t do nitrous oxide, it’s very dangerous. There wasn’t even any sort of warning.”

Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, can be bought over the counter in canisters for use in catering or commonly by doctors and dentists for pain relief.

In November 2017, just two weeks before Matthew died, senior judges moved to make recreational use of the substance illegal - although it has not been banned for any other purposes.

Mr Brennand said that because it has many “legitimate purposes” he would be unable to make any recommendations in regards to legislation surrounding the sale of nitrous oxide.