'Hostages' arrested on suspicion of aiding fugitive gunman

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The Independent Online

Wanted gunman Raoul Moat was still on the run last night after a day of intensive activity in which police appeared to be closing in on the former nightclub bouncer in the wild countryside on the rural outskirts of a Northumberland market town.

About 1,700 residents in the popular tourist destination of Rothbury were told to stay in their homes while air and ground exclusion orders were implemented around the town 30 miles north of Newcastle, although these were lifted late last night.

However, Moat was still believed to be hiding in the area and police were advising residents to remain indoors.

Throughout the day, detectives had insisted that the "net was closing in" on the fugitive but as darkness fell their efforts appeared to have been frustrated again. Restrictions were partially eased and children who had been locked in their school all day wept as their anxious parents were allowed into the curfew zone to collect them at the end of lessons.

The fourth day of the manhunt saw up to 300 armed officers drawn from six forces join the search, which had shifted northwards following the discovery of a black Lexus car on the edge of Northumberland National Park. It is believed the Moat, 37, may have been travelling on foot after abandoning the heavily modified vehicle which locals said had been parked beside the river Coquet since Saturday. Dog teams and forensic experts were sent to check out farm buildings while marksmen scoured forest and grassland surrounded by the Cheviot Hills.

Locals reported seeing evidence of a camp at a farm outhouse in the area around Cragside, which a former girlfriend said was regularly visited by Moat when he was younger.

Meanwhile a neighbour at the former doorman's home in Newcastle described how he had set out on Thursday dressed in khaki "as if to go to war" after being released from Durham prison where he had been serving a short sentence for assault.

He went on to shoot and badly hurt his former girlfriend Samantha Stobbart, 22, and kill her new boyfriend, Chris Brown, 29, a karate instructor, early on Saturday. On Sunday morning he shot and seriously wounded PC David Rathband, 42, who was sitting in his patrol car in Newcastle.

Police had earlier lifted a news blackout following the arrest of two men originally believed to have been held hostage but who are now being questioned on suspicion of conspiracy to murder following the three shootings in Newcastle and Gateshead over the weekend.

Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson, who is leading the manhunt, said the pair – one white and one Asian – were discovered walking beside a road near Rothbury but refused to give further details. He sought to cut off criticism of his force's handling of the inquiry following its voluntary referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and said everything was being done to find Moat.

"What I want to stress to the wider public is I would love to be in a position to let the wider public know what is going on behind the scenes. There is a huge amount of effort going on," he said. Northumbria's acting Chief Constable Sue Sim declined to be drawn on whether the IPCC investigation would be broadened to look at issues beyond its handling of a warning from prison officers that Moat posed a serious threat to his former girlfriend.

Mr Adamson, meanwhile, made another personal appeal to the gunman. He said: "Mr Moat, I have a further message for you. I have made a number of requests to you to contact police and hand yourself in. That opportunity still exists. Please remember what I have said to you before. Do not leave your children with distressing memories of their father. You still have a future. Give yourself up now."

Details also emerged yesterday of the 49-page letter delivered by Moat to a friend on Monday in which he threatened to continue shooting police "until he was dead". The man who handed in the letter, Andy Mcallister, said police took over an hour to collect the document after receiving his second visit from Moat in 24 hours.

Yvette Foreman, 35, another former girlfriend, said she and Moat used to go camping in the woods near her home in Rothbury.

"I knew he'd come here," she said. "It's his favourite place in the whole world. There's so much woodland and so many little nooks and crags out there I think he could hide out for days."