A DESPERATE struggle to save a man's life on a hotel balcony ended in tragedy, an inquest in Huddersfield was told.

Company director Ashley Thornton, 28, fell from a hotel balcony in Italy after drinking with colleagues.

Mr Thornton was found clinging to balcony by two associates but slipped from their grip as they tried to haul him to safety.

Mr Thornton, originally from Holmfirth, owned the Domain Interiors store in Leeds. He was visiting a furniture exhibition in Como.

He met fellow furniture dealers Christian Horley and Adam Martin, who own a store in Sheffield, on the flight to Milan.

The group were staying at the Leonardo Da Vinci hotel in nearby Erba.

After dinner and wine with their Italian hosts, Mr Thornton returned to his hotel room on the fourth floor with Mr Horley and Mr Martin at 2am where the three men carried on drinking on the balcony.

Mr Horley said: "We were all very drunk and my memory is not particularly brilliant but I had gone into the room when I heard Ashley screaming for my help. He was on the outside of the balcony - hanging on the bottom bar of the balcony.

"It was very clear that Ashley could not get up himself.

"His feet were below the bottom of the balcony. He was holding on with both arms but couldn't pull himself up.

"He was shouting for my help. I shouted Adam and held Ashley's wrist with both my hands, then Ashley came and got hold of the left arm."

Mr Martin, who had been in the toilet, said: "Ashley was hanging on the outside of the balcony with his legs dangling. I pushed myself against the balcony with the top of the rail against my ribs.

"But my arm was not strong enough to hold him and I was looking for something else to get hold of. I grabbed on to his shirt and tried to reach for his belt, but I realised I was too short, lost his belt and I couldn't hold on."

He added that he had "no concerns" about the balcony, which seemed to be a standard level and came up to chest height.

The two men rushed to find help from night porter Maranto Salvatore and hotel staff went to the room from where they looked down to see the businessman lying badly injured on the roof of the swimming pool.

Mr Thornton was rushed to hospital suffering where he died later the same morning of September 15, 2003.

Neither of Mr Thornton's colleagues knew how he had come to hang from the outside of the balcony before they found him.

Richard Sykes, principal analyst with West Yorkshire Analytic Services, said tests showed Mr Thornton had 281mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, three times the legal drink drive limit of 85mg.

He said the victim had drunk the equivalent of six or seven pints of beer, possibly more as the alcohol was consumed over a long period. There was no trace of any drugs.

The cause of death was multiple injuries consistent with a fall from a great height.

West Yorkshire Coroner Roger Whittaker, recording a verdict of accidental death, said: "We shall never know what possessed him to be on the side of the balcony. There is no evidence of foul play and one can assume that this was drunken prank."

He added the balcony was not dangerous.