French hunter escapes jail for killing man believed to be wild boar

A French hunter avoided jail on Thursday for killing a Franco-British man he thought was a boar, disappointing relatives and friends who had called for a harsher sentence.

Morgan Keane, 25, was shot dead by Julien Feral, 35, in south-west France in December 2020 while chopping wood on his land.

The ruling came days after the French government imposed stricter rules on the sport to prevent such accidents, as controversy mounts over what remains for many a proud tradition of the French countryside.

Feral was sentenced to a two-year suspended prison sentence and a life ban from hunting following his involuntary manslaughter trial in the southwestern French city of Cahors.

The organizer of the hunt has since been sentenced to an 18-month suspended sentence and a five-year hunting ban.

Prosecutors had demanded that both men serve at least some jail terms.

“The justice system has done its job” within the confines of existing laws, said Benoit Coussy, attorney for Keane’s brother.

“Now the legislature needs to do its job and create a specific ‘hunting offence’ that could allow for harsher penalties,” he added.

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“The message was sent that if you kill someone, there are absolutely no repercussions,” said Peggy, a friend of Keane’s, who did not give her last name.

“I know he’s not necessarily a danger to the public, but for me, you have to send a message that killing someone doesn’t mean anything,” she added.

– “Market for Life” –

Keane was shot and killed while chopping wood near his home in the village of Calvignac in December 2020.

“There’s not a day that I don’t think about it, it shaped me for life. I’m sorry,” Feral told the court at the opening of the trial in November, admitting he “did not identify the target.”

The investigation revealed that the hunter was unaware of the area and was stationed in a poorly chosen location without proper security instructions.

“We’re relatively happy with removing the shooter’s lifetime hunting license,” said Zoe Monchecourt, who heads an association set up by Keane’s friends to push for updated hunting laws.

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“On the other hand, we are not at all happy with the hunt operator” and his ban of just five years, she added.

The case revived tensions between anti-hunting activists and defenders of a rural hobby and practice considered necessary by farmers to suppress deer and wild boar populations in particular.

During the busy times of the hunting season, much of the French countryside echoes with gunfire, leading many hikers to avoid wooded areas for their own safety.

– No hunting-free Sundays –

On Monday, President Emmanuel Macron’s administration said it would tighten rules against drug- or alcohol-influenced hunting, increase training and safety requirements, and set up digital systems to warn other land users of active hunting areas.

Penalties are also increasing, including losing hunters’ licenses if they are involved in a serious accident.

But ministers balked at implementing a popular proposal to ban hunting on Sundays altogether, fearing a backlash from the influential hunting lobby.

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Statistics show that hunting accidents in France have decreased over the last 20 years.

But cases of injury or even death from stray bullets remain highly emotional and often receive extensive media coverage.

The verdict in the Keane case “encourages us in terms of our security measures,” said Michel Bouscary, president of the hunters’ association in the southwestern department of Lot, where the murder occurred.

According to the national federation, there are 1.1 million active hunters in France and around five million people hold a hunting license.

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