Stuart Lubbock: What happened to the man found dead in Michael Barrymore’s swimming pool?

Suspicion continues to surround drowning of partygoer at TV star’s Essex mansion 19 years ago as deceased’s father implores him to ‘come clean’ about what really happened on night of 31 March 2001

Barrymore: The Body In The Pool trailer

Michael Barrymore was once regarded as the king of British Saturday night light entertainment, the beaming host of family-friendly ITV shows like Strike It Rich, My Kind of People and Kids Say the Funniest Things.

But the career of a man whose broad appeal saw him rise from Butlin’s Redcoat to opening for Larry Grayson on The Generation Game and headlining The Royal Variety Performance in 1993 came to a crashing halt on the night of 31 March 2001.

Paramedics were called to the entertainer’s £2m mansion in Roydon, Essex, to attend to Stuart Lubbock, a 31-year-old partygoer, meat factory supervisor and father of two they found lying dead on the patio beside the star’s swimming pool.

Lubbock had been one of seven guests invited back to the star’s home after a night out at the Millennium night club in Harlow, several of whom had never met him before.

While the ensuing tragedy was treated in the first instance as an accidental drowning, an inquest in September 2002 revealed not only that Lubbock had traces of cocaine and ecstasy in his system and had consumed the equivalent of nine pints of beer on the night of his death, according to The Mirror, but also that he had suffered horrific internal injuries indicative of sexual assault.

A new documentary airing on Channel 4 this week, Barrymore: The Body in the Pool, seeks to uncover the truth behind the last night of Lubbock’s life, an occasion that remains an unsolved mystery almost 19 years later and the source of considerable, ongoing (and lurid) tabloid fascination.

The release of Channel 4’s 90-minute film has prompted Essex Police to concede that errors were made in its initial investigation.

“We did make mistakes in terms of the crime scene. A lot of witnesses said it was a tragic accident so we believed them at that point,” detective chief inspector Stephen Jennings reflects in the film.

He says his officers secured the scene “but not to the standard we would expect”, allowing for several items to be removed, according to DCI Jennings, including a door handle and the pool’s thermometer, which the police came to believe had been used to rape Lubbock, an opinion shared by coroner Michael Heath.

“I was shown a photograph at the police headquarters and it shows on the wall of the Jacuzzi a pool thermometer that would have four cutting edges,” Heath says. “An object like this or even this object could have produced the injuries I identified on Stuart’s anus if this had been passed into the anal canal a number of times.”

“I believe very much that Stuart Lubbock was raped and murdered that night,” DCI Jennings states in the film. “Someone that was there knows what happened.”

The Body in the Pool – its title echoing the famous opening of Billy Wilder’s film Sunset Boulevard (1950), in which screenwriter Joe Gillis narrates his own murder from beyond the grave – also features a haunting audio recording of the original 999 call reporting the incident.

“A fella has drowned in the pool. We have got him out,” the caller – another guest, unemployed dustman Justin Merritt – tells the emergency services. “There’s a party going on and someone has just gone out and found him. I think the geezer’s dead mate.”

Barrymore has consistently denied any involvement in Lubbock’s death but was himself arrested in connection with the incident in 2007, along with Justin Merritt and the star’s then-boyfriend, drag queen Jonathan Kenney. All three were later released without charge.

A High Court judge subsequently ruled that the arrest had been unlawful because it had been carried out without reasonable grounds, prompting the entertainer to pursue a compensation claim against Essex Police, saying the scandal had cost him £2.4m in lost earnings before finally abandoning the case last summer.

Stuart Lubbock (Essex Police/PA)

Michael Barrymore has made several attempts to relaunch his career over the last two decades, notably taking part in Celebrity Big Brother’s most infamous instalment in 2006 alongside such B-list eccentrics as Pete Burns, Dennis Rodman, George Galloway, Rula Lenska, Jodie Marsh and eventual winner Chantelle Houghton.

Most recently, the 67-year-old was set to return to ITV as a contestant on Dancing on Ice but had to withdraw with a wrist injury in December.

In the interim, Barrymore has given candid interviews to The Jeremy Kyle Show in June 2014 and to Piers Morgan’s Life Stories in June 2019, discussing his coming out in 1995, his subsequent divorce from dancer Cheryl Cocklin and his battle with alcohol.

Barrymore told Morgan that he “couldn’t be more sorry” for the death of Stuart Lubbock while maintaining that he was “100 per cent innocent”.

“That family deserves proper answers,” he agreed. “No parent should have to bury their young.”

Terry Lubbock speaking at Essex Police headquarters in Chelmsford

Terry Lubbock, 74, Stuart’s bereaved father, is a key contributor to the new film.

“This documentary is about the questions around what happened to my son Stuart Lubbock,” he comments.

“Finally. The story has become so distorted and confused over the years. So much has been said and written. It’s time to put all the facts together in one place.”

Speaking at Essex Police headquarters earlier this week, Lubbock once more called on Barrymore to explain the events of that fateful party: “It’s time now for you to either clear your name or put your hands up to what happened because you must know.

“I think the people who were there in Michael Barrymore’s home on that day, on that night, are thinking it hasn’t gone away, it won’t go away.”

“One or more of the eight people at this party are responsible for Stuart’s death,” agreed DCI Jennings.

Essex Police and the Crimestoppers charity are meanwhile offering a £20,000 reward for new information.

Barrymore: The Body in the Pool airs on Channel 4 on Thursday 6 February at 9pm and will subsequently be available to stream on All 4

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