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

He 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.

A pathologist who did the autopsy concluded that Heward died from choking on his vomit because of "profound, severe alcohol intoxication".

West Coast teenager Mitchell Heward died after a party at Lake Kaniere where partygoers had been drinking beer and spirits from a tube and funnel.
West Coast teenager Mitchell Heward died after a party at Lake Kaniere where partygoers had been drinking beer and spirits from a tube and funnel.

Heward's father, Ron Heward, said the family had received the coroner's report a few weeks earlier but had not opened it.

"Having it put back in the public eye is a wee bit upsetting. We still miss him like hell so it just brings it all back up again," he said.

"But we are getting on with our lives as well as we can, we are one person down but we still have a daughter and another son."


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

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

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

Ron said he didn't agree with the outcome in court.

"Mitchell was bullied into sculling alcohol," he said.

"The thing that we are really gutted about is that, it doesn't matter what they tipped into him, they weren't seen to be committing an unlawful offence.

"That seems to be really wrong."

Heward said the police could not prosecute because the death was classed as an accident.

"There were so many things that made up this so called accident, that I don't believe that it was an accident," he said.

"There was the supply of the alcohol, the bullying aspect, and then what they tipped into him.

"So you basically have a lawful way to kill someone now in New Zealand, where you won't get prosecuted. It is just nuts."

The Heward family, from left: Laura, Gerald, Ron, Mitchell and Jan. Photo / Supplied
The Heward family, from left: Laura, Gerald, Ron, Mitchell and Jan. Photo / Supplied

He said the family did not hold the boys who bought the alcohol responsible for the death.

"The supply of the alcohol was not the problem, it was what they did with it.

"The boys that supplied the alcohol were not the same ones who poured it into him. That is where the problem is and to us that is wrong.

"Those people that tipped the alcohol into him should be held to account for it."

He said teens need to be more aware, but parents also need more backing from the law.

"The law has a bloody big hole that needs to be corrected if you can pour alcohol into someone to such an extent that it kills them, and aren't able to be held to account, there is something the matter with that.

"To have a situation in New Zealand where you can take someone's life and not be held to account, that is not what we expect."

Heward said he plans to get a copy of the police report through the Attorney General.

"I am certainly going to look into it a bit more and try and find out why the law is so stupid."

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

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

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

Jan 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."