Police lost evidence at Barrymore's house

IPCC report criticises failure of investigation into the death of Stuart Lubbock
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The Independent Online

Two pieces of potentially crucial evidence were lost by police at the start of their investigation into the death of Stuart Lubbock, a report by the police complaints watchdog revealed yesterday.

Mr Lubbock was found dead beside the swimming pool at the home of the television presenter Michael Barrymore in March 2001. A post-mortem examination revealed that the 31-year-old, who died from "immersion" in water, suffered serious internal injuries consistent with sexual assault, yet the weapon which inflicted them has never been found and no one has ever been prosecuted for his death.

A report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that two potential weapons were missed. A swimming pool thermometer and a door handle were never forensically tested.

The thermometer was pictured next to the spa bath by investigators from Essex Police, while the door handle, found nearby, was mentioned in the notes of the police inspector at the scene. Yet neither was seized as evidence and neither has been seen since.

David Petch, the IPCC commissioner, said: "They were two items that were potentially significant that should have been recovered. If you look at the nature of the anal injuries sustained by Stuart Lubbock and nature and size of these items and their proximity to where he was found, you can understand why we consider them potential weapons and significant. We will never know whether they were evidentially important, but not securing them was a failure and leaves questions unanswered."

The missed evidence was just one of a number of failings highlighted by the report. Six of 36 complaints made by Mr Lubbock's father, Terry, were upheld. They included the fact that the police did not seal off the crime scene properly, that unauthorised people were allowed to stay at the scene and that blood found on boxer shorts, towels and a robe was not promptly investigated.

On Monday night Essex Police's Deputy Chief Constable Andy Bliss visited Terry Lubbock's home in Harlow, Essex, to apologise in person before the publication of the report. Mr Lubbock was given a copy of the report at 8am yesterday and said he was considering suing the force in light of its findings.

He said: "It was not a catalogue of errors. There were not that many. But the errors that were made were quite significant. If they had done the job properly in the first place we would have had people in court charged. That is what I am pursuing. I want justice to be done and I will not rest until it is."

Police were called to Mr Barrymore's house at 6am on 31 March 2001. Initially only the swimming pool area was considered a crime scene and eight people, including five witnesses, were allowed in and out of the premises until the whole house was declared a crime scene at 10.30am. A picture of the thermometer was taken at 9.45am but it was not among 93 items of evidence seized.

The boxer shorts, towel and robe were collected but the blood on the boxers was not examined until more than a year later and the blood on the towel and robe was not examined until 2007.

Commenting on the performance of the officers involved in the investigation, Mr Petch said: "They did what they thought sufficient, but it was not. They should have gone the extra mile."