By SIMON TOMLINSON
Magnificent: It is believed the Emperor of Exmoor was shot by poachers because his head and antlers could be worth as much as £2,000
It was a shooting that shocked the world and has remained a mystery ever since - who killed the Emperor of Exmoor and where is the magnificent stag's body?
It is a riddle which may have, in part, been solved by the apparent discovery of the beast's head in a boutique hotel.
But experts locked horns today over claims that one of Britain’s finest stags has been stuffed and hung on wall at The Hartnoll Hotel in Bolham, near Tiverton, Devon.
Is this the Emperor stag? The Hartnoll Hotel in Bolham, near Tiverton, Devon (left) and the stag pictured last year
The magnificent Emperor stag, which stood at nearly 9ft tall, was reportedly shot dead in the middle of the annual rut on Exmoor, Devon, last year.
His carcass was never found and experts feared the antlers had been sold to a private collector for thousands of pounds.
Although the owner of a boutique hotel, just nine miles from where the stag was shot, claims to have the animal’s head mounted on her wall.
Valuable: The Emperor's antlers, which had a total of 17 points, could fetch a large sum to the right buyer. His meat could also have been sold for up to £300
Locked horns: Hotel owner Claire Carter claims she has been loaned the stags head but experts claim she is 'after the publicity' and the stags head differs wildly from Emperor's
Claire Carter says she was loaned the head by a friend to display in the sitting room of The Hartnoll Hotel in Bolham, near Tiverton, Devon.
She said: ‘He could well be the Emperor, yes. That’s all I can really say, but I do believe it is (the Emperor).’
The stag’s head, with antlers that had a total of 17 points, could be worth £2,000 as a trophy to the right buyer and the meat could be sold for up to £300.
But today a wildlife expert who spent years pursuing the 300lb beast said he was ‘positive’ the head is not that of the Emperor.
Wildlife tracker Dave Webb has been running deer safaris on Exmoor for six years and has seen the Emperor many times over the years.
Impressive: Staff at the hotel in Devon were astonished their stag's head could be Emperor's
Demise: The Emperor disappeared during last year's rut on Exmoor, leading to furious debate, anger and theories that he had been executed
Mr Webb, of North Molton, Devon, said the formation and angle of the antlers are different.
He said: 'If you compare the antlers there are a few differences which make me believe it’s not The Emperor.
'The points nearest the eyebrows on the picture taken in the wild of The Emperor are twisted. On the one that’s hanging on the wall in the hotel they are straight.
Outrage: It is believed this grainy picture taken by an Exmoor deer hunter shows a poacher allegedly cutting the Emperor's throat before phoning an accomplice
Deer lovers were quick to condemn the killing and a debate raged as to whether it had been shot illegally or by a licensed deer stalker.
Its carcass was never found and there were even rumours that its demise was a 'myth”, invented to protect the animal from rogue hunters.
Weeks later, following huge media interest which made headlines around the world, alleged pictures of its shooting emerged.
Hartnoll Hotel owner Mrs Carter said she believes the head she has in her hotel was that of the magnificent animal - but refused to reveal who she had borrowed it from.
Mystery: Other experts claim the massive stag dubbed 'Emperor' is very much still alive, photographer Brad Wakefield said this picture (taken in October last year) proves the stag is alive
She said: 'The thing is I haven’t actually bought it. I’ve got it on loan. It doesn’t actually belong to me.” Asked about the stag’s origins or why the owner did not want to be identified, she said she had 'promised faithfully I wouldn’t say anything about that”.