Wales

French Alps shooting: 'Nowhere is safe' in hunting area

Marc Sutton Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Marc Sutton owned a restaurant in the small town of Les Gets

"Nowhere is safe" in the area of the French Alps where a Welsh chef was killed by a hunter's stray bullet, a friend of the victim has said.

Marc Sutton, 34, was killed while riding his mountain bike in woods near Montriond, close to the Swiss border.

Katie Downs, a former BBC journalist, lives in Morzine, close to where her friend Mr Sutton, from Caerphilly, was killed on Saturday.

She said: "It happened to Marc but it could have been any one of us."

Following the shooting, a 22-year-old man was taken to hospital suffering from shock and was being investigated on suspicion of aggravated manslaughter, the AP news agency has reported.

Mr Sutton's death prompted the introduction of a temporary hunting ban in Montriond.

Mrs Downs, 38, who is originally from Manchester, said: "Our community has come together to try to bring about real change, in co-operation with the local hunt leaders.

"A poll of over 9,000 people in the local French newspaper Le Dauphine today showed 76% agreed hunting should be banned on weekends.

"Nowhere is safe - Marc was on a popular bike track outside a hunting zone, last year a woman was shot and killed sunbathing in her own garden and in 2015 a jogger was killed in the Alps after straying into a hunt which had failed to put up any warning signs.

"All his friends can do now is make sure Marc's death counts by making sure this can never happen again, and everyone can enjoy these mountains and live life to the full here - just as he did."

Image copyright Katie Downs
Image caption Katie Downs says people living in the area are "well aware of the risk" posed by hunters

'Marc loved the mountains'

By Katie Downs, Morzine

There are some dangers you expect from a day out walking or biking in the mountains - a twisted ankle, trips and falls, a sudden change in weather.

But what you might not realise, if you booked an autumn trip to the French Alps, is the real danger of getting shot.

That's what happened this weekend to my friend Marc.

Biking down a popular track in the tourist resort of Morzine, he became the fourth person to die at the hands of the hunt since the current season opened last month, and the 35th since 2016.

You may not be aware that hunters roam the countryside all over France from September to February.

Autumn hiking and biking here offers a stunning activity break, but make sure that alongside your walking boots and poles you pack a high-vis vest and a whistle.

Those of us who live here are well aware of the risks - none more so than Marc, who loved the mountains and enjoyed them to the full, always safely.

Image copyright Katie Downs
Image caption Marc Sutton (at the back) enjoyed skiing with friends

Whenever we plan an autumn hike we have to check an app, Chasseco, which shows the areas the hunt is allowed that day.

They are supposed to be cordoned off with obvious warning signs, but the zones are so vast with so many routes in and out, that this commonly doesn't happen and it's all too easy to wander into a danger zone unawares.

We know bullets are no respecters of boundaries, and neither are many hunters, so our hiking group regularly find ourselves on a forest walking track with gunshots ringing around us.

When that happens we sing as loudly as possible to make the hunters aware of our presence, and walk quickly with our hearts in our mouths - a lovely sunny stroll turned into a survival march.

We knew the risks but couldn't have comprehended that one of our group would die from one of those hunters' bullets.

Image copyright Katie Downs

The mountains are beautiful, we all live here because we want to enjoy this stunning landscape, and we shouldn't have to take our life in our hands to do that.

But when the hunt is allowed to take over the countryside for four days of every week, including all weekend, people feel they have to take a risk by going outside to enjoy the place they live.

The views are to die for here, but not literally.

Montriond town council has now put a temporary ban on hunting pending an investigation into these issues and we hope other towns - and the French government - will follow suit.

The fact that Marc's killing in a popular tourist town might put others off from visiting could be the extra push they need to finally act after years of inevitable, and completely avoidable, deaths.

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