A hunter who shot dead a French-British man he mistook for a wild boar has received a two-year suspended sentence and has been banned from hunting for life, days after the government outlined tighter rules for the sport.
Julien Féral, 35, who had only possessed a French hunting licence for four months before the incident, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He had told the court he mistook 25-year-old Morgan Keane for a wild boar when he shot him dead in south-west France in December 2020.
Keane’s death caused outrage and raised questions about the wider culture and safety of French hunting.
Keane died after he was hit in the chest while cutting wood on his land near Calvignac in the Lot, south-west France. He and his brother had lived at the remote property overlooking the Lot River after the deaths of their French mother, in 2016, and British father, in 2019. The court heard how the bullet passed through Keane’s heart and lungs and, his lawyer said: “he drowned in his blood … for 15 minutes he was crying out”.
The court in the south-western town of Cahors also handed an 18-month suspended sentence to Laurent Lapergue, 51, who was directing the hunt. He had been charged with involuntary manslaughter but denied responsibility. Lapergue was banned from hunting for five years.
Féral had told the court of the incident: “There isn’t a day I don’t think about it, it’s marked me for life. I’m sorry.” He had admitted he had not “identified the target”. He said he had taken up hunting to “clear his head” after his young daughter was killed by a drunk driver. “I like nature and I didn’t have any other way to destress. I thought: why not?” he said.
The high-profile case revived tensions between anti-hunting activists and defenders of a rural hobby and practice who argue it is necessary for farmers to keep down deer and boar populations in particular.
During the busy times of the hunting season, large parts of the French countryside reverberate with the sound of gunshots, leading many walkers to avoid forested areas.
On Monday, President Emmanuel Macron’s government said it would tighten rules against hunting under the influence of drugs or alcohol, strengthen training and safety requirements, and set up digital systems to warn other countryside users away from active hunting zones.
Punishments would also be upgraded, including hunters losing their licences if they are involved in a serious accident.
But ministers stopped short of implementing a popular proposal to ban hunting altogether on Sundays, fearing a backlash from the influential hunting lobby.
Un jour un chasseur, set up by four of Keane’s friends after his death to record hunting accidents, said: “Overall, we are quite disappointed with this verdict. The prosecutor’s recommendations were not all followed, even though the Court had the opportunity to pronounce exemplary and strong sentences, four days after the government’s announcements to improve hunting safety.”
Statistics show hunting accidents in France have been decreasing over the past 20 years. But cases of injury or even death remain highly emotive and are often widely covered by the media.
Willy Schraen, the head of the FNC hunting lobby, said last week he could not imagine hunting-free Sundays “for a single second”. He has claimed a ban would cause uproar in rural areas.
There are 1.1 million active hunters in France, according to the FNC, and about 5 million people hold a hunting licence.