MYSTERY surrounds the death of two boatmen who drowned in the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal as they walked back to their barges after an all-day drinking session at a nearby pub.

Although conclusions of accidental death were recorded for 53-year-old Nicholas Barry and his friend 69-year-old Terry Humphries there is no explanation as to how they both entered the icy waters near Purton on the night of January 12.

Mr Barry’s body was discovered on the towpath, near to the Tudor Arms in Slimbridge while Mr Humphries was found further down still in the canal in the early hours of the morning.

Giving evidence at Gloucestershire Coroner’s Court, detective sergeant Alistair Hammett said there were no suspicious circumstances and that it was “a tragic accident”.

Mr Humphries, who lived on his canal barge Little Billy with his two dogs and originally from Stepaside, was found floating in the water.

Mr Barry, who lived on his canal barge Four Seasons with his dog and originally from Llandovery, was discovered on the towpath about a 15-minute walk away.

The two men were thought to have entered the canal at about the same location but while Mr Barry appeared to have managed to scramble out of the water, his friend was carried downstream by the current.

Both men were said to have drowned. All three dogs were recovered by a local dog warden.

Mr Hammett said: "A member of the public rang 999 after finding the dead man and three dogs on the towpath.

"Another member of the public reported seeing a second male in the water. He was recovered by a lifeguard before the paramedics arrived on the scene.”

Manager of the Tudor Arms, Ben Kingscote, said in a written statement: "Terry and Nick had been drinking all day and they left at around 11.30pm to walk back to their barges.

"They were merry and in good spirits."

A fellow boatman, Tim Aldridge, said, also in written evidence: "Terry was drinking ale and Black Rat strong cider and they were both quite merry but they appeared to be in good spirits."

Senior coroner Katy Skerrett said: "The medical cause of death in both cases is drowning and clearly alcohol was involved in both cases.

"Whether one or both slipped and fell into the canal or one fell in and the other tried to help or whether they went into the water to get their dogs, who might have gone in, we shall never know.

"I agree with the officer-in-the-case that this was a tragic accident.

"The dogs remained close and although it appears that Mr Barry managed to get out of the water - there were scratches on his hand - he was unable to recover."