Four killed in attack on British car in French Alps beauty spot

Girl, 8, critically injured during incident that may have been an attempted robbery of family

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The Independent Online

Four people died yesterday in a brutal gun attack on a British-registered car in the French Alps after what police believe may have been an attempted robbery or hijacking.

An eight-year-old girl, apparently from the same family as three of the victims, was fighting for her life in a hospital in Grenoble last night after being shot three times. She was found beside a British-registered BMW four- wheel drive car in remote woodland five kilometres from the village of Chevaline, close to Lake Annecy.

The bodies of a man and two women were discovered in the car. The body of a cyclist was lying nearby.

Although the local prosecutor declined to comment on possible motives for the slaughter, a gendarmerie officer said the investigation would examine similarities with a series of robberies and attempted hijackings of tourist cars in France this summer.

Investigators will also look at possible connections with the discovery of human bones in the forest near the village of Chevaline, which has a population of 300, in June.

The identity of the car was confirmed last night, pointing to the "likelihood" that three victims were British, a gendarmerie spokesman said. However, he said that the identity of the victims, said to be in their 40s or 50s, had not yet been confirmed.

Initial reports suggested the girl had died from her wounds but French authorities said she was critically ill in hospital. She was flown from the murder scene by helicopter and had a series of operations.

Eric Maillaud, public prosecutor in Annecy, said: "All possible lines of inquiry remain open. A large number of gun cartridges, around 60, were found at the crime scene."

The bodies will remain in the wood overnight and post-mortems will be performed today or tomorrow.

The dead man was found in the driving seat of the vehicle in a public car park on a remote forest road – the Route de la Combe d'Ire in the wooded foothills of the Alps above Lake Annecy. The two women were in the back.

No firearms were found – apparently ruling out the possibility of a mass suicide or domestic quarrel. Bullet holes were found in the car.

The fourth victim was a male cyclist who was found lying beside his bike. Gendarmerie investigators were said to be examining the possibility that he interrupted a robbery.

The victims were discovered by another cyclist at about 3.50pm.

The mayor of Chevaline, Didier Berthollet, said villagers had told gendarmes that they had seen a car driving unusually fast through the village. "Never before have we witnessed such horror on our doorsteps," he said.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said it was aware of the incident and was looking into it urgently.

A local gendarmerie source said there had been a series of robberies, and attempted robberies, of tourist cars in France this summer and last. The possibility of a robbery or hijacking would be one of the lines of investigation, he added.