Police seek drone owner who may have footage of angler before he died

Hunt for drone owner who may have  filmed killing of angler, 66, who died after ‘yobs pelted him with stones’ in grounds of Lullingstone Castle

  • Rocks were allegedly thrown last Thursday near the castle, in Eynsford, Kent
  • Charles Hilder, 66, from Romford, Essex, died in the grounds of the castle
  • Father-of-five was mourned publicly by one of his grown-up daughters
  • Armed police were seen ‘running up the road’ after incident at 5pm on Thursday
  • Angry locals have complained to the MP about gangs of yobs terrorising area 

Police want to talk to the owner of a drone who may have captured footage of two yobs throwing stones at an angler before he died.

Father-of-five Charlie Hilder, 66, was on a small boat in a lake when he reportedly had rocks thrown at him. 

The pensioner is understood to have called the police and returned to the shore before he was confronted again by the thugs.

Mr Hilder collapsed and died at the scene near the Grade I-listed mansion of Lullingstone Castle in Eysnford, Kent. 

Father-of-five Charlie Hilder, 66, (pictured) collapsed and died near the Grade I-listed mansion of Lullingstone Castle in Eysnford, Kent

Charles (right), who was named by fellow anglers, is understood to leave behind his wife Lynne and five grown-up daughters (pictured on daughter Claire’s wedding day)

Detectives from Kent Police’s serious crime directorate yesterday appealed for the owner of a drone seen flying in the area to come forward.

They believe the drone’s owner may have captured ‘important video footage’ of the incident which took place just after 5pm on Thursday.

Mr Hilder, from Romford, Essex, was reportedly fishing for the first time since the beginning of the lockdown. 

His daughter Stephanie, 31, wrote on Facebook: ‘Words can’t explain how we are feeling at the moment. Sleep well, Dad. Give everyone a hug from me.’

Locals said there had been a recent increase in antisocial behaviour by gangs of youths near the estate, where Henry VIII once hunted.

The angler had spent the morning before his death stocking the lake (pictured) with trout

The father-of-two died in the grounds of Lullingstone Castle in Eynsford, Kent, (pictured)

Detective Chief Inspector Gavin Moss said: ‘We continue to appeal for information from anybody who witnessed the incident. We have also been told a drone was flying at the time and we would like to trace the owner.’

Mr Hilder is understood to have left behind his wife Lynne and five grown-up daughters. 

His daughter Stephanie wrote of the tragedy: ‘Our hearts broke to hear that our dad sadly passed away. 

‘Words can’t explain how we are feeling at the moment. Sleep well Dad. Give everyone a hug from me.’

It is not yet clear whether the victim was actually struck and if he became ill after the attack in the picturesque Darent Valley between Sevenoaks and Dartford.

It comes as locals and MPs claimed the area had been under siege from yobs in recent weeks with some threatening people and even trying to steal a woman’s dog. 

Hazmat suited forensic officers operate inside the cordon after a man died in the grounds of Lullingstone Castle

A gloved forensic officer holds what appears to be a rock, and hands it to crew on the banks of the lake

Forensic officers looking round the boats by the lake on the grounds of the castle in Kent on Friday May 29

Residents had told of concerns the area was facing an anti-social behaviour crisis, with one telling local MP Laura Trott on Facebook: ‘Something like this was coming.’

Ms Trott, Conservative MP for Sevenoaks, said she was raising concerns over anti-social behaviour as a ‘matter of urgency’ and was ‘very concerned by the reports’. 

Police said this afternoon that Mr Hilder ‘may have been involved in an altercation’ with two youths before he died. 

Mr Hilder’s family said he was able stagger back to his car after the attack and contact emergency services.

Mick Lee, chairman of the Kingfisher Angling and Preservation Society, posted on their website this evening: ‘The Society has been shocked and greatly saddened to hear of the death of Mr Charles Hilder at Lullingstone on Thursday 28 May 2020.

Charles Hilder, 66, from Romford, Essex, died on Thursday after allegedly being pelted with rocks (pictured with daughter Stephanie)

‘Although the exact circumstances surrounding Charlie’s death are unclear we believe that he died after a confrontation with poachers.

‘At this stage we would like to pass on our sincere condolences to Charlie’s family and friends.’  

Witnesses reported seeing armed police arrive and administer CPR before paramedics also tried to save the man’s life, but he died at the scene. 

His daughter is said to have rushed to the scene where she let out what one witnesses described as a ‘piercing scream’ when she learned her father was dead.

‘She did not know what had happened and said she was just told that her father had been injured,’ said a witness.

‘The woman was at the police cordon and asked to see him and was told that he was dead. She was in tears and let out a really high pitched scream.

‘She said she last spoke to her father that morning. It was awful to see.’

The man was a member of the Kingfisher Angling & Preservation Society and had spent the morning before his death stocking the lake with trout with the society’s director Martin Duffell – the first time he had been outside in weeks. 

A woman who answered the door at Mr Duffell’s house in Orpington today would not name the victim but said: ‘He was a member of the angling society.

Police comb the area surrounding the lake and the grounds of Lullingstone Castle in Kent

Police officers at the scene following the death in the grounds of Lullingstone Castle 

Police forensic officers looking round the boats by the lake on the grounds of the castle on Friday

‘He was a very nice, very kind man. He spent the morning with Mr Duffell stocking the lake with trout. It’s absolutely tragic – and it was in such a beautiful, tranquil area. Everybody is shocked. He was a very nice man.’

It costs £400 for an annual membership at the club, along with a £250 joining fee. Most of the fishing at the Lullingstone Castle lake is done by boat.

The water is stocked with rainbow trout. On its website, the society warns members about poaching in the area.

It says: ‘Poaching activity on the River Darent continues to be an issue and members are reminded of the recommended course of action.

‘It is very important that you report all poaching incidents that you witness. DO NOT APPROACH THE POACHER. Call the police immediately.’

Forensic teams work on the Volvo car parked at the crime scene at Lullingstone Castle in Eynsford, Kent

A box full of nitrous oxide abandoned in grass just yards from Lullingstone Castle

Police tape at the entrance to Lullingstone Castle in Eynsford, Kent, following the man’s death

A car with fishing rods inside at the scene in Lullingstone Castle in  Kent on Friday

Police have yet to confirm they have launched a murder investigation and have not said what led to the incident or if the death was caused by a rock.

A police source said a catapult was likely used to launch the rock at the elderly man, who is from the Essex area and was visiting the castle’s lake to go fishing.

The victim’s Volvo estate car remains behind a police cordon. Police have not made any arrests or issued a description of those they want to question over the incident.

A marine unit van and forensic investigation van were later seen parked opposite the cordoned castle gate.

These were joined by a second forensic van containing two investigators wearing face masks and white overalls and a large Kent Police van shortly after 2pm.

The forensic teams began to photograph the silver Volvo V70 Cross Country estate which was parked at the side of the castle gate. Officers wearing protective gear opened the front passenger door to examine the inside of the vehicle.

The entrance to Lullingstone Country Park off the A225 was also blocked off by a police van. Local residents said the lake is a dammed part of the River Darent which flows around the grounds of the castle.

A police car at the entrance to Lullingstone Castle in Eynsford on Friday after Thursday’s death

The lake at Lullingstone Castle where the man was fishing with his brothers (file picture)

One said: ‘One person said he was in the grounds of the castle and that he was fishing. There is a private lake on the grounds where you can pay to go fishing.

‘It’s quite expensive I think. Eynsford has a very high population of elderly people and a lot of them go fishing.’

The 42-year-old said yobs have been wreaking havoc in recent weeks, adding that a group of about up to 30 men aged in their 20s or older have been targeting locals.

Writing to local Tory MP Laura Trott on her Facebook page, Stephen Jury said: ‘Something needs to be done!

‘The level of anti-social behaviour in and around the villages has become a joke and there isn’t a policeman in sight until it is too late!

Lullingstone Castle was built in 1497 and is a tourist attraction in the area (file picture)

‘There have been several instances over the last week or so.

‘Why does it take the death of an innocent man for something to be done? I just feel for that poor man’s family but something like this was coming!’

Ms Trott, who became MP for Sevenoaks in December’s election, said: ‘All our thoughts go to the victim’s family and loved ones at this time.

‘I am speaking with the police and the local councillors this morning and I will raise your concerns regarding rising anti-social behaviour as a matter of urgency.

‘This is something a few constituents have also emailed me about and I am very concerned by the reports.’

She called for anyone with information to get in touch with police urgently.

People look at the police presence at the entrance to Lullingstone Castle in Eynsford on Friday May 29

However, there is no suggestion that it was members of that group who were allegedly throwing rocks yesterday.

** Did you witness what happened on Thursday? Email [email protected] ** 

A cricket club manager was allegedly threatened with a broken bottle recently, and the man said they also tried to steal a woman’s dog in nearby Farningham.

He added: ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if they were involved. Eynsford is usually so peaceful, but it’s been a nightmare over the past few weeks.’

The entrance to Lullingstone Castle remained taped off by police. An officer and marked car guarded the castle gate which was closed.

One woman, who walks her dog past the castle every day, said: ‘I’ve been told by someone who lives in the castle it was an angler there who (died).

‘She seems to think there were three brothers fishing on the lake there and stones were being thrown at them. It’s shocking. Two of them came in and went home but one of them never did. They’re quite elderly.

‘I was on that cricket pitch yesterday and there must have been a group of at least 20 to 30 people.

Police presence at the entrance to Lullingstone Castle in Eynsford, Kent,on Friday

Police tape at the entrance to Lullingstone Castle today after a man died there on Thursday

‘Kids have been coming down on the train because it’s a nice spot by the river. And during the height of lockdown this village road has been busier than the A20 with daytrippers.’

How Lullingstone Castle has been owned by the same family since the 15th century

Lullingstone Castle was built in 1497 and is a tourist attraction in the area, featuring a 15-acre lake and several gardens containing international plants.

 

The estate, near the famous Brands Hatch Circuit, has been owned by members of the same family since the 15th century.

The castle, which opens for three days per week during spring to autumn, has shut due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The impressive manor was said to be a favourite of Henry VIII and Queen Anne, with a bathhouse built for the latter still hidden in its grounds. 

The land has been owned by the Hart-Dyke family for 20 generations and is one of England’s oldest family estates, with the land mentioned in the Domesday Book. 

It was also home to the Lullingstone Silk Farm, established in the early 1930s, which produced material for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation robes and wedding dress.

Lullingstone also features a garden of exotic plants from across the globe, a venture which got off to a dangerous start when horticulturist and heir Tom Hart Dyke was kidnapped while plant hunting in Columbia in 2000.

The 44-year-old was held captive for nine months by suspected Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas in the Darien Gap near Panama.

He had been hunting for rare orchids with his travel partner Paul Winder at the time. 

Her friend added: ‘There’s been so much trouble over the weekend. There have been yobs causing a lot of trouble at a local shop and on the local cricket pitch.

‘They pulled out hanging baskets and were throwing stones. We don’t have that sort of trouble round here.

‘There’s an old boy who tends the cricket pitch and he was threatened with a broken bottle last weekend.’

Another man from Sidcup, who goes for walks in the village, said the Lullingstone golf course was closed because it had been ‘trashed by horses and bikes’.

One concerned neighbour said there had been previous incidents by the lake where people had been stealing fish.

She said: ‘It’s a really beautiful lake down there in the castle. The only issue I’ve known in the past with the fishermen is they’ve had issues with people coming to steal the fish because they’ve got some lovely ones in there.

‘That is a known problem. All we saw was the police cars come racing past yesterday.’

Her partner added that he had stumbled across dumped laughing gas canisters near the castle while on a walk.

Nearby roads were closed and forensic officers searched fields close to the grounds. An air ambulance was also seen circling above the picturesque village.

Another witness said yesterday: ‘I came out and saw armed police running up the road. Other officers told me it was now a crime scene.’

The family who own the Lullingstone Castle estate put out a message On Twitter assuring friends and family they were not involved in the incident.

The official Twitter page of the castle carried the message, saying: ‘If you have seen the news, we just wanted to reassure people that Sarah, Tom and everyone at Lull are safe and well.’

The estate is owned by the Hart Dyke family.

A Kent Police spokesman said: ‘Kent Police was called at 5.21pm on Thursday,  May 28 to reports of a disturbance in the grounds of Lullingstone Castle.

‘Officers and South East Coast Ambulance Service attended and a man in his 60s was pronounced dead at the scene.

‘It is reported he may have been involved in an altercation with two boys or teenagers near to a lake within in the grounds, prior to his death.

‘Investigators are appealing for information from anybody who was in the area, including dog walkers, anglers and golfers, who witnessed the incident or saw two young people in the vicinity of the lake between 12pm and 7pm.

‘They are also keen to obtain video footage from any vehicles that travelled along Castle Road or Shoreham Road, and any cyclists or joggers in the area between these times.’ 

Anyone with details can contact Kent Police on 01622 604100, quoting 28-1127 

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