A POPULAR landlord who spent 20 years working in pubs across Southampton has died suddenly from meningitis.

Steve Dockrell, 55, landlord of The Hobbit, was found unconscious in bed at his home above the pub in Bevois Valley Road after complaining he was feeling unwell.

He was taken to Southampton General Hospital by ambulance but never regained consciousness and died three days later.

Health chiefs say his death was a one-off case of pneumococcal meningitis and no one else is at risk.

Close friend Colin Pollard said: “It has come as a complete shock. None of us had a clue he was that ill.”

Paying tribute to Steve, who was best man at his wedding, Colin said Steve had twice fought off pancreatitis and battled throat cancer, which inspired him to hold regular fundraising events for Southampton charity Headline which helps people with head and neck cancer.

“For him to come through all that and to be taken by something like this is just so cruel,”

said Colin.

“He was a very caring person and doted on his partner Lisa George and her two children Amber and Holly.

“A lot of people in pubs in the area would have been helped by Steve while they were starting out and many people knew him”

As well as owning The Hobbit, which won Best Pub 2007 in the Daily Echo’s Best Bar None awards, Steve owned the Lord Palmerston in Palmerston Road and the Frog and Frigate in Canute Road through his company Dockrell Leisure Ltd.

During his 20 years in the Southampton pub trade Steve also ran The Swan in Woolston, the Bent Brief in Lodge Road, Portswood, and the Village Bells in Totton. He was also a former chairman of the Southampton and District Licensed Victuallers Association.

“He loved his pubs and he was a very traditional publican, that you probably don’t see very much today with so many high street cloned pubs,” said Colin.

Following Steve’s sudden death last Thursday, Colin said that none of his three pubs would close.

“They are all carrying on as normal. As a tribute to Steve they will remain open. There’s no way he would want them to close.”

A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency and Southampton City Primary Care Trust said that no one who came into contact with Steve was at risk of getting meningitis.

A round 2,000 people are affected and 300 people a year die from the disease, which can be hard to distinguish from cold or flu.

Colin said anyone who knew Steve is invited to attend his funeral at 12.20pm at the East Chapel of Southampton Crematorium on Tuesday followed by a wake at The Hobbit.