A POPULAR police worker died after suffering a cardiac arrest in a swimming pool during a 50th birthday spa day.

Stephen Bullen was enjoying the day out with friends at the Christchurch Harbour Hotel when he suffered the fatal medical episode.

Now his grieving mum has paid tribute to her son, who had worked for the police, most recently in a specialist unit, for almost 30 years.

Denise Bullen, who lives with her younger son, Daniel, and daughter-in-law, Rung, in Christchurch said: "We just cannot believe what has happened. As a child Stephen had a viral infection which caused minor damage to his heart but we never expected this.

"His condition is quite common and we were told that he might need some minor surgery, perhaps in his 60s, but this was not expected."

Mrs Bullen said Stephen, who lived in Highcliffe, was 50 on February 8 and that his friends had taken him to the spa the following day as a gift.

"He had a good circle of friends and they took him for a spa day and they had also planned afternoon tea" she said.

"Two days later they were going to take him to the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton to see Brendan Cole because he had taken up ballroom dancing and was apparently quite good at it."

Mrs Bullen said her son had entered the pool for the second time on Friday February 9 when he was taken unwell.

Emergency services were called and he was taken to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital but had another cardiac arrest on the way.

Mr Bullen died in hospital four days later.

Mrs Bullen said her son was brought up in Iford and attended Stourfield Infants' school and Beaufort School.

She added: "He had been with the police for nearly 30 years - he loved his job. He was also very clever at DIY - his flat was like a showhome."

John Willcock, general manager of the Christchurch Harbour Hotel, said: "We are devastated at the loss of a local person and our deepest sympathies go out to Mr Bullen’s family. We will be contributing to a charitable cause that may be appropriate."

A funeral service will be held on Tuesday February 27 at 2pm at Bournemouth Crematorium.