As French investigators struggle to explain how a young hunter out on a shooting expedition in the French Alps ended up killing a British mountain biker at the weekend, the victim's friends and the community where he lived are leading a campaign calling for a change in the law.
The 34-year-old Briton, Marc Sutton (pictured below) who had been living in the Alps for four years and was well known and well liked among the mixed French -Anglo community, was fatally injured while out on a ride on a well used, but hard to access mountain track near the village of Montriond.
The group of hunters had positioned themselves along the path of a power line, parallel to the track at the edge of the forest used by the mountain biker.
On Tuesday local prosecutor Philippe Toccanier told reporters that Mr Sutton was wearing bright clothes when the 22-year-old hunter discharged his weapon at around 6 pm on Saturday.
“The area was open and visibility was perfect,” he added.
Mr Sutton was struck in the chest and died of his injuries.
All of the witnesses to the death — six hunters aged between 20-23 and another two aged around 40 from a local hunting association (ACCA) — have been interviewed by the police, but the shooter remains in hospital where he is being treated for shock.
France's National Office of Hunting and Wildlife (ONCFS) has been tasked with carrying out a report to establish if there were any breaches of hunting regulations on the day.
In the meantime the mayors of Montriond and nearby Morzine have temporarily banned hunting out of respect for the victim and while the police investigation is ongoing.
Nevertheless the friends and members of the Alpine community, both French and British, are not waiting on the outcome of the investigation and have launched their own campaign to change the law.
Almost 1,000 people have joined a Facebook group that has been set up to push for the rules to be reformed to make the mountains safer. “This can't happen again,” the Facebook page says.
They want hunting to be restricted on weekends to mornings only, better and clearer signage and more information available to members of the public about where hunts are taking place. They will take the message to surrounding towns and villages via a leafleting campaign.
“The only positive thing that could come out of all of this is if there's a change in the rules around hunting,” Katie Downs a friend of the victim told The Local.
“If we can do that then it would save lives.”
While the community has been shocked by the fatal shooting, many who live in the Alps and indeed around rural France are not surprised that fatal accidents continue to happen when hunters are out.
“People are scared to go on a jog or a walk. How can people enjoy the mountains when there are shots ringing out all around you?” said Ms Downs. “What happened isn't a surprise. That's why we need a change of the law.
“The change needs to be countrywide because this is happening all over France all the time.”
Hunting remains popular – it is practiced by around 1.2 million people – but controversial in France, with farmers and enthusiasts arguing that it is an important social pursuit in rural areas that helps control the population of animals such as wild boar or deer.
According to the national hunting and wildlife agency ONCFS, 115 people had been injured in hunting accidents this year up to June 1, with around 85 percent being hunters themselves.
Thirteen died of their injuries, including three people who were not involved in a hunt. In the past The Local has covered tragic stories such as that of a 69-year-old woman being shot dead in her own garden after a bullet from a hunter's rifle passed through a hedge and a jogger who died in the arms of his wife after being shot in the Alps.
Animals rights activists and anti-hunting groups have long campaigned against it and were vocal in their criticism of French President Emmanuel Macron in August when he slashed the price of a hunting license in half to 200 euros (230 dollars).
And it appears there is local support in the Alps for tougher restrictions on hunting. In a poll in the local Dauphine Libéré newspaper 76 percent of respondents were in favour of the past-time being banned on weekends.
“When you argue against it hunters will say 'it's necessary for culling and to protect the environment' or that it's their hobby, but none of these things are worth people's lives being taken,” said Ms Downs.
“If it's for culling then they could cordon off the area for a week while it takes place and if it's a sport then it needs to be done well away from people on private land where lives are not endangered,” said Ms Downs.
“It's inevitable there will be more deaths if the laws are left as they are,” said Ms Downs.
It's a view shared by France's anti-hunting, pro-wildlife association ASPAS.
Mark Giraud, spokesman for the organisation told The Local hopes of bringing about change were slim in France, especially with the current government which he considers pro-hunting.
“The hunting lobby is in charge in France and the government offers us no protection so deaths like this will continue to occur,” said Giraud.
“But we won't give up. We have been fighting against hunting for 30 years and we will win, but it will take time.”
The Local has asked the Federation of Hunters in Haute-Savoie to contribute to this article.