France shooting suspect under investigation for murderon June 12, 2023 at 6:41 pm

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Eleven-year-old Solaine Thornton was shot dead while playing on a swing in her garden on Saturday.

Solaine Thornton, an 11-year-old schoolgirl who was shot dead by a neighbour in the village of Saint-Herbot, Brittany, France

The suspect held over the fatal shooting of an 11-year-old British girl in France is under investigation for murder, prosecutors say.

Solaine Thornton was shot dead while playing on a swing in her garden on Saturday evening.

Prosecutors said Dirk Raats, a 71-year-old neighbour, got to within 10m of the girl’s father before opening fire through a hedge.

He had been in conflict with the family over building work on their property.

Mr Raats then shut himself in his house in the village of Saint-Herbot, north of Quimper in Brittany, following the incident but gave himself up to police an hour later.

His wife, who was also arrested, surrendered half an hour after he did, but she has since been released.

Prosecutor Camille Miansoni said the couple had been in conflict for years with their British neighbours over works taking place on their property.

The suspect was “profoundly exasperated” over the works, which he said affected his privacy and caused disturbance to him and his wife.

Mr Miansoni said the suspect had gone into his home to fetch one of the guns and returned to the garden before opening fire and shooting three or four times through a hedge. This suggested a level of premeditation, he said.

“It appears that he clearly aimed at the father, that he aimed at his wife, but however he seems less clear as to a possible admission that he aimed at the girl,” Mr Miansoni said.

Solaine Thornton and her eight-year-old sister Celeste had been playing on a swing as their parents tended the barbecue when the neighbour began firing.

The younger girl ran to another neighbour’s house to raise the alarm and is now said to be in shock.

A local resident told French media that the younger child ran to neighbours shouting: “My sister is dead, my sister is dead”.

The victim’s parents Adrian and Rachel Thornton were also hurt and are in hospital.

A search of Mr Raats’ home uncovered two rifles, one of which had not been previously declared. The couple, both Dutch nationals, tested positive for alcohol and cannabis. They had no previous convictions, prosecutors said.

Mr Miansoni said the suspect had expressed regret, and that a mental health assessment had found nothing notable.

Flowers and teddies have been left on the family's front door step

Adrian and Rachel Thornton, both from Oldham, came with their two daughters to live in the hamlet of Saint Herbot in 2019. Theirs is the only English family in the area.

Previously, the Thorntons had lived in other parts of France. Solaine was born in Brittany and Celeste in the Massif Central in central France.

The family home in Saint Herbot is a square, whitewashed, relatively modern house with a large plot of land behind and a workhouse which was once a sawmill.

While his wife worked in social services and his two children attended local schools, Adrian, a mechanic, spent a lot of time working on his plot of land.

According to Marguerite Bleuzen, mayor of the town of Plonevez-du-Faou, the land had been abandoned and was returning to the wild. Adrian set about the task of clearing the land, cutting down undergrowth and some trees.

This appears to have caused the friction with his neighbours, whose large green-shuttered house looks down onto the Thorntons’ plot.

“I was called out there three years ago, when there were the first tensions,” said Mr Bleuzen. “We managed to settle things down, but since then I had never had to intervene.”

But after Saturday’s shooting, the mayor later heard from neighbours that there had been regular flare-ups.

“On one occasion, I was told that the Dutch man brought out a weapon. I wish I or the police had been told, and this might have been avoided,” he said.

Locals say that the English family were well-liked. They lent their plot of land for parking at the hamlet’s annual September festival which honours the saint after which it is named. The 14th Century church lies 100m from the Thorntons’ house.

By contrast, no-one seems to have had any contact with Mr Raats or his wife.

At around 22:00 local time on Saturday night, he fired through his hedge into the plot of land where the Thorntons were having a barbecue.

The rough-and-ready children’s play area, with a swing and a small trampoline, is right next to the hedge which separates the two properties. When the man fired, the girls were at practically point-blank range.

According to Mayor Bleuzen, when police arrived, Rachel Thornton was holding her dead child in her arms.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said it was providing assistance to a British family.

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