A police inquiry into the death of a man who was found floating in Michael Barrymore’s swimming pool may have been hampered by a failure to spot crucial evidence at an early stage, it was claimed today.
An investigation into the case of Stuart Lubbock by BBC Radio Four’s File on Four programme suggests that detectives may not have been working on the theory of asphyxia for the cause of death until much later in the inquiry.
Matthew Gowen, the Lubbock family’s barrister, told the programme: “The police weren’t aware that asphyxia may have been something they should have been pursuing.
“They did all they could to investigate the case, but it wasn’t for some weeks that they went back to Mr Barrymore’s house and did a very thorough second examination when they took many items away to be forensically examined.
“Clearly, that was a result of further reports they got as the process went on which they hadn’t had initially.”
Police worked on the theory that the 31-year-old had drowned after he was found at Barrymore’s luxury home in Roydon, Essex, on March 31 last year.
Home Office pathologist Dr Michael Heath conducted a post-mortem examination on the same day and gave “immersion” as the cause of death and later ruled out any third party involvement.
The programme, which will be broadcast on Tuesday, highlights the contrasting views of other pathologists who gave evidence at the inquest earlier this month.
Professor Christopher Milroy, who conducted a second post-mortem examination on June 19, suggested that Mr Lubbock may have been held around the neck before his death because of the existence of petechial haemorrhaging.
This pin-head size bleeding in the eyes, face and behind the ears, was not often found in drowning victims but is often found in those who have died from asphyxiation, he told the court.
Prof Jack Crane, the state pathologist for Northern Ireland who examined both Dr Heath and Prof Milroy’s findings, also put forward the theory of asphyxial death.
They also suggested that the internal injuries may have resulted from a serious sexual assault.
However, neither Prof Crane nor Prof Milroy could give a definitive cause of death and would only say that drowning was one of a number of possibilities.
Dr Heath said “patchy bruising” near the voice box was the only neck injury and may have been caused by intubation, as medics battled to save his life.
He said he considered the possibility of asphyxiation, but found the theory “untenable” because he could find no evidence of obstruction in Mr Lubbock’s upper airways or pressure on the neck.
Two men at Barrymore’s house on the night of the tragedy – Justin Merritt and Jonathan Kenney – were later arrested on suspicion of murder but then released without charge.
The police investigation was subsequently suspended because the cause of death was unascertainable and there was no witness evidence.
The BBC programme said it would look into other inquests where Dr Heath’s evidence had been questioned.
The pathologist, who has worked on many high-profile cases including the deaths of 58 Chinese immigrants who suffocated in a lorry at Dover, declined to talk to the programme.
But he told the Independent on Sunday he stood by all his findings.
It was not unusual for pathologists to disagree, he said, but that it was only noticed in high-profile cases.
“It would be wrong for me to say that Mr Lubbock died from asphyxiation because he didn’t,” he said.