The week-long hunt for the fugitive Raoul Moat came to a climax last night as the police finally located and cornered the elusive gunman.
Britain's most wanted man was in a face-off with at least 10 police marksmen after being spotted early yesterday evening in the town of Rothbury.
Moat was intermittently lying down and standing up but all the time holding a gun to his neck while police negotiators attempted to persuade him to surrender peacefully. He was initially shouting and screaming at officers while negotiators tried to calm him down while addressing him by his first name and urging him to "put the gun down".
Streets were sealed off and residents were warned to stay inside their homes "for your own safety" as police tightened the cordon around the fugitive, who is wanted for murder. As the stand-off continued through the evening, police brought in Tony Laidler, one of Moat's closest friends, in the hope he might be able to talk the gunman into giving up without any further bloodshed.
As darkness fell food and drink was passed to Moat and the negotiating team settled in for what they recognised could be a long wait. Unless Moat is deemed a threat to anyone but himself the police are expected to wait him out. "So long as he's a danger only to himself they'll be happy for it to take as long as it takes," said one officer.
Moat's position was finally pinned down early yesterday evening when a member of the public reported seeing a man fitting his description emerge from undergrowth near the river Coquet.
Such was the urgency to get to him before he could disappear again that two police vehicles, flashing their lights but travelling without sirens so as to avoid alerting the gunman, collided while on their way to the scene.
Northumbria Police said in a statement that "a man who fits the description of Thomas Moat" had been surrounded by the riverbank in the town and that negotiations had started.
Scores of residents were trapped within the police cordon and many were terrified they would be caught in the crossfire if Moat tried to start shooting at police.
One resident, Paula Mason, said her mother was trapped in her home from where she could see Moat by the river. "She said a marksman told her to get in with a gun. I just spoke to her on the phone. She's absolutely terrified, she's on her own. She said he is sitting with a gun to his head. The police are surrounding him."
Margaret Chandler, 79, said she had locked herself inside her home close to where Moat was. She said: "I'm close to the river but I can't see for the trees. Lots of police have been up and down. Some of them came down the side earlier and told me to stay indoors and lock everything up."
The location Moat was found in was close to the spot where he was sighted by two witnesses the previous night, shortly after Acting Chief Constable Sue Sim had assured residents Moat was unlikely to be seen walking down the high street with a gun. She had, in a remark she seems likely to come to regret, tried to reassure people that Moat wouldn't be able to penetrate the police ring preventing Moat from getting into the town.
The scene is only a couple of hundred yards upstream from where a Lexus car believed to have been used by Moat was found on Tuesday.
A retired taxi driver, Dave Murray, 67, of Knocklaw, said Moat appeared to have been chased through the village and was heading east before being cornered at the primary school tennis courts and bowling green. He said: "There is nowhere for him to go, the river is on one side and this road and all the police on the other. They should go ahead and shoot him and be done with it and save us all a lot of money."
In a bizarre twist, the former England footballer Paul Gascoigne turned up in Rothbury late last night claiming to be a friend of Moat's and offering to help by speaking to him.
The cost of the operation to find Moat is now expected to top £3m. Hundreds of armed officers were involved in the operation to comb thousands of acres of farmland, moors and woods before he was tracked down. Searchers were joined yesterday by an RAF Tornado with imaging equipment normally used in Afghanistan.
Police spent the earlier part of the day dealing with a number of potential sightings including one on Rothbury high street on Thursday night and a theft at an allotment. It emerged that a home at the edge of the town had been ransacked for food and shelter.
For the first time since an exclusion zone was imposed in Rothbury last week, armed officers were deployed outside the local school. The officers were responding to requests from parents.
Meanwhile, two more people – a man and a woman – were arrested near Blyth in connection with the hunt, bringing the total number of people held to seven. Moat is wanted in connection with shooting his former partner Samantha Stobbart, 22, killing her new partner Chris Brown, 29, and seriously injuring PC David Rathband, 42.
Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson, who is leading the inquiry, revealed that police had recovered three mobile phones which were regarded as likely to provide vital clues.Reuse content