Hunter walks free after killing British-French citizen he mistook for a boar

Morgan Keane, 25, is believed to have died instantly after being hit by the bullet in the chest while chopping firewood near his house in France

Portraits and candles are displayed during a white march to pay tribute to Morgan Keane in Cajarc, south-western France. AFP
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A hunter who shot dead a French-British citizen after mistaking him for a wild boar received a two-year suspended sentence from a French court on Thursday.

Morgan Keane, 25, is believed to have died instantly after being hit by the bullet in the chest while chopping firewood near his house in a village in the French countryside, north of Toulouse, in 2020.

According to the indictment, he was shot from a distance of 75 metres with a Remington pump-action rifle.

Both the shooter and the hunt leader were tried for the crime.

Investigators had described the hunt as “totally disorganised” and “intrinsically dangerous” and said it was “a miracle” an accident had not occurred sooner.

The shooter received a two-year suspended sentence and was banned from hunting for life on Thursday, while the court handed the hunt leader an 18-month suspended sentence and a five-year hunting ban.

The shooter told the court at the November opening of his trial for involuntary manslaughter in the southwestern town Cahors: "There isn't a day I don't think about it; it has marked me for life. I'm sorry.”

He said he had not "identified the target".

According to reports, the shooter, who had a gun permit and hunting licence, was tracking a boar, which ran into the wood.

Mr Keane lived with his brother alone at the property following the death of their parents. His mother was French and his father was British, but the brothers were born and raised in France.

Their father had reportedly argued with hunters two years before his death in 2019 for coming too near his land.

The case revived tension between anti-hunting activists and defenders of a rural hobby and practice that is seen as necessary by 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 for their own safety.

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 will also be upgraded, including hunters losing their licences if they are involved in a serious accident.

But ministers stopped short of adopting a popular proposal to ban hunting altogether on Sundays, fearing backlash from the influential hunting lobby.

A friend holds a portrait of Morgan Keane as he leads a white march to pay tribute to the young man, a year after he was killed by a hunter. AFP

An outright ban is widely popular in many parts of France. But some observers have said Mr Macron is hoping not to alienate rural constituencies — where hunting remains popular — in a week in which he is scheduled to announce a controversial pension reform.

Statistics show hunting accidents have been on the decline in France over the past 20 years.

But cases of injury or even death from stray bullets remain highly emotive and are often widely covered by the media.

Willy Schraen, the head of the influential FNC hunting lobby, said last week he couldn't imagine hunting-free Sundays "for a single second".

He claimed there would be uproar in rural areas if there were a ban.

There are 1.1 million active hunters in France, according to the FNC, and about five million people possess a hunting licence.

Updated: January 12, 2023, 10:05 AM