A conspiracy theorist who believed coronavirus was a hoax died the day after testing positive for the virus.

Gary Matthews, from Shrewsbury in Shropshire, often shared his disbelief in Covid-19 online and refused to wear a mask.

But the 46-year-old died on January 13 after being unwell for a week as a result of contracting the virus.

His heartbroken family have spoken out in the hope of encouraging others not to get swept up in the lies.

His cousin, Tristan Copeland, said: ‘He was still a beloved member of the family and he didn’t change as a person.

‘He always loved his painting. He painted portraits. A lot of his work was around celebrity culture.

‘We used to got to C21, where creators would go together to put on displays and have a couple of beers. He was a brilliant artist.

‘He’d always be happy to whip up a quick sketch. He could be a bit shy but he was always kind.

It has been heartbreaking for the family. We’re still taking it all in. They were all very close. He’d speak to his family every other day. He had a sister and a niece and nephew.’

He explained how the keen painter developed a distrust for the media and his search to ‘find the truth’ led him into a dark hole.

His family say he ignored Covid-19 regulations and continued to meet with friends throughout the pandemic.

‘About two or three years ago he became very concerned about the conflict in Syria from a humanitarian point of view,’ added Tristan.

‘I think he read a few stories which led him to distrust the media. Eventually, that led him to some climate change denial groups which he started posting on.

When I came back to Shrewsbury we would hang out, and I would ask him if he actually believed this stuff. There was no swaying him.

‘I’d show him a report to disprove the theory but he would come back with a less than reputable one that backed up his idea.’

Tristan said it’s ‘hard to break people out’ of that way of thinking.

‘He would tell me I was brainwashed by the media,’ he said, ‘This thinking is impenetrable when you are arguing with facts.’

Tristan said as Gary’s posts about his beliefs became more frequent, he felt he needed to separate himself from it.

‘I feel like I failed him by muting him. I do feel guilt,’ he said.

There were lots of people trying to help bring him out of it but it didn’t work.

‘He could be quite shy and even though he did have friends I think he found it difficult to make close friends.

‘I think these groups gave him that. He was ripe to be adopted into it and they led him astray.’

Gary was also physically fit and regularly went to the gym.

‘He didn’t deserve that,’ concluded Tristan, ‘No one does.’

A local conspiracy theorist, who was a friend of Gary’s, has called for an autopsy to uncover what he thinks would be the ‘real cause’ of his death – claiming he had asthma.

But Gary’s family say they were not aware of any asthma diagnosis, saying he instead may have obtained an inhaler to claim he was exempt from wearing a mask if confronted.

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