Prince William’s best friend is furious after discovering that a police swoop on his Norfolk shooting estate was triggered by animal rights vigilantes.
Officers investigating wildlife crime discovered an illegal trap during a night raid on the 4,400-acre Hilborough estate near Sandringham, which is owned by William van Cutsem, godfather to Prince George.
The Mail on Sunday revealed last week how the wealthy landowner was frisked during the raid.
Norfolk Police later confirmed two men had been searched along with a farm vehicle found to contain ‘a police-style baton’.
William van Cutsem, pictured here with his wife Rosie leaving the christening of Prince George, is thought to be furious with animal rights vigilantes over the police raid
The report appears to have prompted the Hunt Investigations Team (HIT), a group of anti-bloodsports activists, to release footage they claimed had been filmed at the estate last month, showing a goshawk caught in a ‘ladder trap’ that was baited with live pigeons.
HIT campaigns against shooting estates such as Hilborough, which is famed for its wild partridge and has attracted senior Royals including Prince Charles and Prince Harry.
The activists claim illegal methods are sometimes used to cull birds of prey which attack the wild partridges, including goshawks.
But a source close to Mr van Cutsem condemned HIT as a vigilante group which had set up cameras on private land without his permission, saying there were questions about its relationship with police and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
‘William is baffled the police didn’t say anything or give him any information and he had to read about it [on their Twitter page],’ said the source.
‘What also is interesting is how close HIT works with the RSPB. It would be good to understand how a mainstream charity is working with a shady group. Police said nothing.’
The source added: ‘William doesn’t want to say anything else at this stage, but needless to say it’s bonkers that the first he finds out about details was not from the police but from the HIT story.
‘The same weekend this happened, a neighbouring estate had four traps vandalised and a buzzard was found in another one, which was then released by the estate owner.
Police woken van Cutsem in his pyjamas at his home Hilborough House (pictured), which is near to Sandringham in Norfolk
‘These were all reported to the police. I’m also surprised the RSPB, who attended the raid, seem to be getting information from a group with a long history of shady entrapments.’
Goshawks are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Ladder traps such as those used at Hilborough can be used legally, but never with live pigeons as bait.
Norfolk Police said: ‘Four live pigeons, one deceased pigeon and the police-style baton were among the items seized. The police investigation continues.’
A spokesman for the activists said: ‘HIT are certainly not vigilantes. We documented the illegal trapping and taking of a goshawk. We contacted the RSPB for advice and have handed our footage to police. HIT’s priority is to protect wildlife.’