Boy killed after hunt mistakes him for a fox

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A schoolboy was shot dead while on a night hunting expedition after apparently being mistaken for a fox.

A schoolboy was shot dead while on a night hunting expedition after apparently being mistaken for a fox.

Members of the hunting party and paramedics fought to save the 13-year-old, who was hit by a single bullet but he died soon after being airlifted to hospital.

The small group of adults and teenagers were out shooting foxes on hilly farmland surrounding Lower Cholwell Farm, near Harberton, a village south west of Totnes, Devon, on Saturday night.

Most were regulars on the hunting trip, on which they used lamps to spot and startle their prey. The dead boy was believed to be a school friend of one of the sons of David Cleaves, the owner of the farm. It is thought that the boy was not taking part but had simply gone along to watch.

It is understood that one of the three adults in the party told police that he mistook him for a fox and fired. Mr Cleaves said he did not wish to comment on the incident.

Officers from Devon and Cornwall police cordoned off the scene, as well as surrounding roads, and were searching for spent bullets.

While nobody had been arrested, the .22 rifles had been taken for examination and a police helicopter circled the area, taking aerial photographs.

Devon and Cornwall police spokesman Sergeant Alan Mobbs explained that the fox culling expedition was legal and it is believed the weapons were all licenced. The adults would be interviewed over the next few days while the children would give evidence on video.

"It appeared the teenager was a member of a small party who were out with the intention of hunting foxes," said Sgt Mobbs, adding: "At the moment, it is an unexpected death, and we are investigating the circumstances.

"We have seized the guns the group were using and there is nothing to suggest they were illegal. It was a fairly responsible family group."

The ambulance service and police were called at about 9.30pm. The boy was flown by police helicopter to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, where he later died. A full forensic post-mortem examination is expected to be carried out today.

David Duncan, who lives nearby, said: "A young lad was shot accidentally when he was out with a group of local lads who go out shooting for foxes at night.

"It sounds as if he was mistaken for a fox and shot. From what I gather he was a friend of one of the regular members of the group who had gone out with them.

"There was a lot of police activity afterwards and the helicopter was hovering for ages."

The chairman of Harberton Parish Council, John Hockings, 67, said the death had shaken the quiet rural area.

"People in the village are shocked by what has happened. "It is very sad for a boy of that age," he added.

The Reverend Hugh Pollock, the local vicar, added that the community would be "shattered" by the news.