The most convincing solution so far to the mystery of what happened to the Emperor, the legendary red deer of Exmoor, emerged last night. The well-known Devon film maker Johnny Kingdom told two Sunday newspapers that he has identified the final moments of the stag's demise.
Kingdom, 71, the television documentary maker behind the BBC2 programme Johnny Kingdom: A Year on Exmoor, identified the stag's massive antlers in grainy photographs showing a man, believed to be a poacher, apparently cutting the Emperor's throat.
The pictures, published in The Mail on Sunday, appear to show the final moments of the impressive 9ft, 136-kilo deer after it was shot just after dawn in the valley near the village of Rackenford, on 8 October.
Kingdom would not speculate on the identity of the "poacher". He told The Sunday Times: "There's a lot of people with a lot to say, and they don't know what they are talking about. In my game you learn to be careful what you say and who you say it to, otherwise you can be the one dodging the bullet."
The photographs are understood to have been taken by a wildlife lover, who asked to have his or her name withheld. The pictures were taken after the beast broke cover from woods where shooting deer is banned. The stag, described as the largest and most impressive example of its species, apparently ran into the sights of a hunter on land next to Little Rackenford Farm. The farm's owner, Richard Frankpitt, told The Mail on Sunday that he did not recognise the supposed poacher's build or clothing. "He is a stranger to me," he said.