French hunter who killed man after ‘mistaking him for boar’ goes on trial

Calls for crackdown on hunt safety during trial of Julien Féral, who shot dead man outside home near Toulouse

A hunter who shot dead an Anglo-French man after allegedly mistaking him for a wild boar has gone on trial accused of manslaughter.

Morgan Keane, 25, was hit in the chest as he was cutting wood outside his home in a village north of Toulouse, in south-west France, two years ago.

The hunter, Julien Féral, 35, had obtained his hunting licence only six months before the tragedy and admitted he did not know the area. Laurent Lapergue, 51, who organised the hunt, is also on trial for manslaughter.

The case has amplified calls for a crackdown on hunt safety and growing anger over the perceived impunity of France’s powerful hunting lobby, which has the backing of Emmanuel Macron. Since Keane’s killing, two other civilians have been shot by hunters.

Keane’s death sparked a social media campaign by his friends called “One day, one hunter”, which led to a petition signed by more than 100,000 people. A subsequent parliamentary inquiry resulted in a 140-page report published in September that recommended, among other safety measures, banning hunters from drinking but rejected activists’ calls to outlaw hunting on Sundays and Wednesday when many children have no school.

Members of the National Hunters’ Federation (FNC) rejected the Sénat’s proposals and reacted angrily, saying they were being “stigmatised” and caricatured.

The indictment states that Keane was chopping wood on his private land at a place called Garrigues near Calvignac at about 4.30pm when Féral, “believing he was shooting at a boar”, fatally hit him from a distance of 75 metres with a Remington pump-action rifle.

Féral, who had a valid gun permit and a recent hunting licence, told police he had joined the hunt with his brother-in-law but was not familiar with the area or which parts of it were private. He said he was standing in a field where he saw “no car, no habitation, no person”, heard a cracking and spotted a boar, which turned and ran into the wood. When he spotted movement nearby, he said he shot again assuming it was the boar.

Keane and his brother Rowan lived alone at the property following the death of their parents. Their mother was French, and the brothers were born and raised in France. The indictment stated that Keane’s late father, Michael, whose nationality was recorded as British when he died in July 2019, had clashed with local hunters two years previously accusing them of coming too close to his land.

Lapergue admitted Féral was inexperienced at boar hunting and did not know the area, but denied any responsibility in the killing. He was accused of manslaughter for allegedly failing to give adequate security instructions before the hunt, which he denies. He also rejected investigators’ findings that the hunt was “totally disorganised” and “intrinsically dangerous”.

Maître Benoît Coussy, Rowan Keane’s lawyer, has called for heavier penalties for irresponsible hunters.

“The term “accident” has been used incorrectly since the beginning of this case and it seems to me inappropriate because it refers to what could be called the hunting excuse,” Coussy told French journalists.

“It’s time to create a hunting crime with heavier and more dissuasive penalties.”

Official figures show that during the 2020-21 hunting season there were 80 shooting accidents, seven of them fatal. Last year there were 90 accidents, eight leading to deaths. An estimated 150 people are injured in hunting accidents every year; most of the victims are those taking part, but in February a 25-year-old woman hiking on a marked trail path with a friend in the Cantal region was shot dead. In October 2021, a 67-year-old motorist was killed after being hit in the throat by a hunter’s bullet as he was driving on a dual carriageway from Rennes to Nantes.

In 2017, a 69-year-old woman was killed when a hunter shot at her garden hedge claiming he had seen a deer. The following year, a 24-year-old hunter killed Welsh restaurant owner Marc Sutton, 34, while he was out on his mountain bike in the Haute-Savoie where he lived. The hunter was sentenced to four years in prison, three of them suspended. Three other hunters and the wife of an accused were given suspended sentences for tampering with evidence.

The shooting of innocent civilians, some on their own private property, has raised questions over how the French countryside is shared. The FNC, which represents 800,000 licensed hunters, dismissed the Sénat report as a “millefeuille of restrictions” that were “not appropriate or realistic”.

The federation’s chairman, Willy Schraen, a larger than life figure who has the president’s ear, caused outrage in June after suggesting country dwellers and activists who feared local hunters should stay at home.

“They should just walk at home then they won’t have a problem … you can always be hit by a stray bullet, but don’t worry, you’ve more chance of being killed by a murderer in France than a hunter,” he told BFMTV.

However, Schraen said in the case of Keane’s killing it appeared “the basic rules were not respected”.

“If one shoots, you have to know what you are shooting at,” Schraen said.

About 90 species can be hunted in France thoughrestrictions on times and numbers apply. The country has 1,313,000 hunters, according to the FédérationNationale des Chasseurs, and hunting is the third most popular sport, after football and fishing.

The trial, which is expected to last one day, opened on Thursday in Cahors. Féral and Lapergue face up to three years in prison and a fine of €75,000 each, as well as a ban on having a firearm for five years or the permanent removal of their hunting licence if convicted.


Kim Willsher in Cahors

The GuardianTramp

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