Tributes have been paid to an angler who died in the grounds of a historic castle after reportedly being pelted by rocks.

Friends believe Charles Hilder, 66, from Romford, Essex, passed away following ‘a confrontation with poachers’ at Lullingstone Castle in Eynsford, Kent.

Police and paramedics were called to the grounds at 5.21pm yesterday and officers have since launched a desperate hunt to trace two teenage boys seen close to the estate’s 15-acre lake.

Mr Hilder’s daughter Stephanie wrote on Facebook: ‘Last night 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.’

He was believed to have been a member of the Kingfisher Angling and Preservation Society, which named the dad and offered its ‘sincere condolences’ to his family.

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Chairman Mick Lee wrote: ‘The Society has been shocked and greatly saddened to hear of the death of Mr Charles Hilder at Lullingstone.

‘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.’

A Kent Police spokesman said on Thursday night: ‘It was reported that rocks were being thrown.’

On Friday, they said that Mr Hilder ‘may have been involved in an altercation with two boys or teenagers near to a lake within in the grounds, prior to his death’.

The force added: ‘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.’

Detectives have so far declined to publicly declare a murder investigation.

Police are keen to get hold of video that might help them track down any culprits or establish what happened.

They are asking for footage from any vehicles that travelled along Castle Road or Shoreham Road, and any cyclists or joggers in the area between 12pm and 7pm on Thursday.

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Large parts of the historic grounds at the castle remained cordoned off and under police guard on Friday, as detectives continue to probe what happened.

Police forensic officers were seen gathering evidence in the estate’s 15-acre lake, as well as a silver Volvo car behind the cordon.

Formal identification by police and a post-mortem examination are yet to take place.

The cause of death has not yet been established.

Anyone with information that may assist the investigation should call Kent Police on 01622 604100, quoting reference 28-1127.

Anybody with video footage can make a report through the Kent Police section of the Major Incident Public Reporting Site: https://mipp.police.uk/

You can also contact Kent Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111, or by completing an online form at http://www.crimestoppers-uk.org

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