Ar��n Piper

Almost £1 million worth of rare koi carp collected by the late Freddie Mercury have been accidentally killed by a gardener.

The Queen star's 89 fish, each more than 2ft long, were worth about £10,000 each.

They were kept in a speciallydesigned pond, which was the centrepiece of a Japanese garden at the eight-bedroom Kensington home, Garden Lodge, where Mercury lived until his Aids-related death in 1991.

The star was obsessed with the carp and used the garden as a retreat from his sickness and the world of rock. When he died it was the most famous collection of its type in the country.

But the fish died earlier this month after Clifton Nurseries employee Mark Bradley arrived to tend the garden. Instructed to clean the pond, Mr Bradley transferred the fish from the pond to a special container. It is believed the air pump was not kept on and the fish died from a lack of oxygen.

Carp can live as long as 100 years, but they are sensitive and need careful handling. Their water must be filtered and kept above 35F. Without filtered water, they will die within a couple of hours.

Mark Miller, the director of Clifton Nurseries, based in Maida Vale, London, which claims the Prince of Wales as a client, says no formal complaint has yet been made.

But the house's owners, Freddie Mercury's former girlfriend Mary Austin and her husband, Nick Hulford, have threatened to involve lawyers.

Mr Miller said: 'We cannot deny that the koi are dead... But I'm not prepared to say anything until the client formally puts it in writing. I've spoken to the client. And I've spoken to Mark Bradley. The client was jumping up and down and said that we would definitely have a letter from his lawyers.

'He was very upset about what has happened. But we have not heard anything from him since.

'The fish are dead, we know that. But the questions as to how they died, who is responsible, and what action is being taken are in the air.'

The prized collection was built up from an original 15 to 89. Mercury and his live-in lover, Jim Hutton, gave each other koi for birthdays and Christmas.

Mercury's passion for the carp was such that four years before his death he said: 'I've lived a full life and if I'm dead tomorrow I won't give a damn. I've finally found a niche I was looking for in my life. To have my wonderful Japanese garden with all this koi carp recently bought at such expense, I love it.'

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