'Senseless' peer pressure led to teen's alcohol death

Mitchell David Heward.
Mitchell David Heward.
A coroner has highlighted New Zealand's drinking culture, ruling on the role "senseless" peer pressure played in the death of a West Coast teenager.

Harihari farmhand Mitchell David Heward (17) died on February 12, 2016, after drinking excessively.

The inquest findings, released today, said Heward was pressured to drink when he went to Lake Kaniere with a group of friends.

The group, aged between 14 and 18, took a significant amount of alcohol with them, and Heward is believed to have drunk beer, vodka and Midori until he lost consciousness.

"Mitchell's death was the tragic consequence of excessive alcohol consumption by a young person, in a group in which pressure to drink was applied. His death was senseless, and a sad illustration of the prevalent drinking culture," the coroner said.

"It is critical that young drinkers, particularly, appreciate the seriousness of the dangers of binge drinking, and to know what to do if someone becomes unresponsive after drinking."

Heward could not be revived and died at the lake, coroner Anna Tutton said.

Two members of the group, aged 18 and 21, supplied the alcohol.

Heward's mother Jan told media in late October 2016 she had no resentment towards his friend who supplied him alcohol.

Brendan Perrin (22) pleaded guilty to supplying Heward with alcohol and was discharged without conviction.

"He was one of Mitchell's best friends," Jan Heward said.

"He was swimming in the lake when it happened. We are not blaming him."

A second man, who was jointly charged, pleaded not guilty and was cleared after a judge-alone trial.

Heward was found to have 349mcg/100ml of alcohol in his system - almost seven times the legal blood alcohol limit for a New Zealand driver over 20 years old.

The doctor concluded that Heward did from choking on his vomit because of "profound, severe alcohol intoxication".

Jan Heward said her son wasn't a drinker and alcohol had never been an issue in their family.

"He was a good kid. He had focus and was saving really really hard. He had bought himself a car and had a motorbike, had furnished his home and he and his friend were planning to buy a farm together and go overseas.

"He was going places... I don't know if you ever get over it.

"It needs to be drummed into teens that alcohol can kill you. Don't believe stupid things; peer pressure from other people saying it's going to be alright. Mitchell was a solid kid.

"Nothing is going to bring him back."

Perrin, in a speech at his school after his best friend died, talked at length about the pain he had caused, and the perils of underage and excessive drinking.

"I tried to resuscitate Mitchell once I saw what had happened and how ill he really was.

"The one thing that keeps me awake at night is that I failed to resuscitate Mitchell.

"I was unable to help him, I was unable to do anything for him. I really tried my best, and it wasn't enough."

The risk of underage drinking or abusing alcohol was too high, Perrin said.

The law was there for "a damn good reason, and it's to protect us from ourselves".

There was a drinking culture in New Zealand - especially among young people.

"We drink to get drunk, rather than drink socially. We drink until we fall."

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