One-tenth of all the country's armed police officers were joining the hunt for fugitive gunman Raoul Moat last night as a £10,000 reward was offered for information leading to the former bouncer's arrest.
Detectives leading the investigation, now one of the largest manhunts in recent years, said they believed the 37-year-old was still somewhere near Rothbury in Northumberland living rough in the country, although it was also possible he had fled the area – perhaps with outside assistance.
Speaking in the House of Commons David Cameron defended police efforts to catch the gunman, saying "I know the whole House and the whole country will be wishing the police well in their search for this individual so that we can put a stop to the horrendous spree that's taking place."
The build-up, with additional firearms experts from the Metropolitan Police and armoured cars from Northern Ireland, continued as some reports suggested that the SAS had become involved in the search. However, Ministry of Defence sources dismissed the claims.
Police revealed they had discovered another hand-written note left behind in a tent where they believe Moat has spent recent days hiding out. It was in secluded farmland near Rothbury where last night police activity was intensifying, with armed officers accompanying a man on to the property. In the eight-page letter, the second he has released since going on the run following the triple shooting on Tyneside over the weekend, Moat said he wanted to kill police officers.
The missive was addressed to his second victim, his former girlfriend, Samantha Stobbart, 22, and was said to contain "personal" information. But it reasserted Moat's mistaken belief that the man he killed – Miss Stobbart's new partner Chris Brown – was a police officer.
Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson said Moat was still armed with one or two weapons and that he had access to ammunition. Police are working with a forensic psychologist to help them negotiate. Det Ch Supt Adamson said he believed he was dealing with a "measured individual who appears to carefully plan his decisions and who is comfortable in an outdoor environment", though there were concerns that he could be affected by withdrawal from steroids.
Last night Channel 4 reported that police had issued a letter which it circulated to friends of Moat's and in which the force confirmed Moat had dialled 999 twice on Sunday morning and told of what he had done and why.
The letter said: "You told us how angry you were and you also told us that you were sorry that Sam had been so seriously hurt. We understand how personal and important these things are to you. We want you to contact us again as soon as you are able so we can discuss these things with you and provide you with a full update on how Sam is."
Det Ch Supt Adamson insisted the net was still closing in on Moat "in a wider sense" after expectations of a speedy resolution to the search had risen and fallen on Tuesday when he was traced to Rothbury. He said that "steady progress" was being made and that police now believe the bodybuilder was responsible for an armed raid on a fish and chip shop near Blyth in south-east Northumberland on Monday in which £70 was stolen. Those living in outlying areas and remote hamlets in and around Rothbury were warned to be extra vigilant and report any suspicious activity to police as Moat could now be scavenging for food and shelter after a cold wet night in the open.
The Acting Chief Constable of Northumbria, Sue Sim, sought to reassure local people who endured a second day of high-level operations with snipers taking up positions in and around the town. She said she was "convinced the main danger is aimed towards the police". Meanwhile Karl Ness, 26, and Qhuram Awan, 23, who police believed were being held hostage by Moat and who were arrested on Tuesday walking along a country lane near Rothbury, were continuing to be questioned. In his second letter Moat claimed he had forced Mr Ness, a friend and fellow bodybuilder, to drive him to the scene of the first shooting on Saturday.
Meanwhile Moat's mother Josephine, 63, described how he threatened to kill her in 2008. "It was like he was not my real son. He did not want anything to do with me. He put his two fingers pointing to me like a gun," she said.
Mrs Moat said that her son had been a quiet boy who suffered from asthma but their relationship deteriorated when he was 19 and that now they were estranged. "If I was to make an appeal I would say he would be better dead," she added. Earlier, police issued a new description of Moat, saying he has blue eyes and is of heavy build with cropped blonde hair. He is believed to be wearing a grey or light-blue hoodie, a red T-shirt, dark-coloured jeans and white trainers.
The hunt: Huge arsenal of firepower engaged to back up search
An awesome array of hardware and firepower has been assembled as the police attempt to track down Raoul Moat.
Among the equipment made available yesterday was a consignment of at least 10 armoured anti-terrorist 4x4 Mitsubishi vehicles which were transported by ferry from Northern Ireland.
In a change from their usual role of providing protection to officers dealing with terrorists, they will offer security to police units combing the Northumberland landscape for the elusive gunman. A team of specialist snipers from the Metropolitan Police has joined the operation. They will be armed with Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifles – a favourite weapon of the SAS when serving in Northern Ireland.
Eight armed-response vehicles, each carrying three officers with 9mm Glock pistols and MP5 carbines, as well as Taser electric stun guns, were also sent up from London.
The 100 trained firearms officers from Northumbria Police have now been joined by 40 from the Met and a further score from West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Humberside, Cleveland, Greater Manchester and Cumbria. The Home Office says there are 6,780 authorised firearms officers in England and Wales, although fewer than a quarter of them would be available for duty at any one time because of staggered shift patterns. The 160 engaged in the hunt for Moat represent about a tenth of all those available.
Forces are able to call on reinforcements through the policy of mutual aid; they are required to pay the donor force for the assistance given.
Simon Reed, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation, said the present force levels could be maintained "for several weeks" and that the deployment would not leave other areas short of firearms cover.
Northumbria Police has 4,100 officers and carried out 154 armed operations in 2008-09 – down from a high of 1,440 in 2001-02.
Police forces have refused to reveal how many officers they have deployed for fear of compromising operations. The assistance provided between forces is overseen by the Police National Information and Co-ordination Centre.