A suspected mugger drowned in a Manchester city centre canal after trying to rob victims on a towpath in an area known as a public gay sex hotspot.
Police are now questioning two men in connection with his death that occurred at the Undercroft, an area known for gay cruising and public sex.
Petty career criminal Steven Cane, 25, is believed to have fallen into the water when a struggle broke out as his victims tried to defend themselves.
Police rescued Cane from the Rochdale Canal in the city centre but he was in a critical condition and lost his battle for life in hospital two days later.
Post mortem tests are due to be carried out but it is feared Cane, who was said to have a ‘catalogue’ of previous convictions, died from drowning.
One of the two men he targeted also fell into the water but clambered out himself and has made a recovery.
The pair will be questioned by police but officers are not planning to treat them as suspects as it is believed they were victims of crime.
The incident occurred at 10.30pm on Sunday as the two men aged 28 and 34 were walking along the canal path that runs towards a tunnel known as the Undercroft which has become a notorious haunt for gay cruising.
Both were accosted by Cane and an alleged accomplice and it is thought they were told to hand over valuables.
But Cane began grappling with one of the victims and both tumbled into the canal and became separated.
The mugging victim is thought to have swam to the canal bank and got out of the water but Cane disappeared under the surface and emergency services were called.
Officers found Cane and dragged him onto the towpath before rushing him by ambulance was taken to Manchester Royal Infirmary. He died on Tuesday night.
Police said the suspected mugging victim ran away from the scene after he got out of the water but collapsed a short distance away. He was taken to hospital for a check-up but later discharged.
A boy of 17 was arrested on suspicion of attempted robbery and attempted murder.
He was later charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent and occasioning actual bodily harm and a third charge of obstructing police and is now awaiting trial. A third suspect was released without charge.
The Undercroft is well publicised on websites as an area for gay cruising and public sex, with people believed to travel from outside Greater Manchester to use it.
Muggers target the area because they believe their victims won't go to the police for fear of being 'outed' as gay. Police believe many crimes in the area go unreported.
There are also concerns that underage teenagers are using the area to work as rent boys, while holiday makers on canal boats have complained of seeing people engaged in sex acts.
Plans are being prepared by the police, Manchester City Council and Canal and River Trust to gate off the area.
Inspector Phil Spurgeon, from the Gay Village neighbourhood policing team, said: "We recognise the Undercroft is a well-established public sex environment and are working hard to tackle the anti-social behaviour and crime associated with this."
David Baldacchino, waterway manager at the Canal & River Trust said: "We are very concerned about the recent incidents on the Rochdale Canal.
"We have been working in partnership with the council, police, and the fire and rescue service to investigate improvements that will help these issues, one of which is the possible gating of a small section of the canal towpath overnight at the Undercroft.
''We regard this as very much a last resort which can only happen if issues such as safe access in emergencies, details of how it will be locked up, and funding can be resolved.
"We are committed to ensuring that the 200 year-old Rochdale Canal can be enjoyed safely by the local community and visitors."
Coun Bernard Priest, Deputy Leader of Manchester council, added: "We are currently looking at a range of ways to make this area safer, including gating off the Undercroft at night, which will prevent pedestrian access to the towpath but will still allow the area to be accessed by canal boat users.
"We will of course ask Manchester residents and canal users for their views before going ahead with this.
“We recognise the Undercroft is a well-established public sex environment and are working to tackle crime associated with this.”
Det Insp Brian Morley from Greater Manchester Police said: "We are still trying to piece together exactly what happened before these two men fell in the canal.
"One of the men managed to get out of the canal himself, however the other man had to be rescued by emergency services and was taken to hospital.
"If anyone witnessed the incident or has any information which may help us with our inquiries, please contact the police as soon as possible."
Picture courtesy of jeffedoe via Flickr,