Police chase new leads in hunt for gunman

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The Independent Online

Detectives on the trail of gunman Raoul Moat were tonight pursuing "valuable" new leads after recovering three mobile phones that could provide vital clues.

In a potential breakthrough a week into the investigation, police said they found three handsets used by 37-year-old Moat during his time on the run.

Experts said the devices could contain a goldmine of information about the former nightclub doorman, including details about his calls, texts, contacts, and even his former location.

Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson, who is spearheading one of the biggest manhunts in living memory, said the past 24 hours had provided "some very positive developments".

It came as police investigated a possible sighting of Moat walking through the centre of Rothbury last night - the small Northumberland town at the centre of huge investigation.

The witness report came hours after Temporary Chief Constable Sue Sim told a packed public meeting that Moat was unlikely to be "walking down the street with a gun".

Armed police also swooped on a stately home on the outskirts of Rothbury today as the round-the-clock search continued.

Cragside House, which lies on the outskirts of the village, was closed to the public as dozens of officers with dogs swarmed around the property, guarding the entrances.

Police also revealed they had arrested a man and a woman on suspicion of assisting an offender. Two other men arrested have been released on bail after being questioned.

Amid raised tensions today, armed police guarded schools in Rothbury at the request of concerned parents.

The move came after police said Moat posed a threat to the "wider public" - and not just police officers.

But Mr Adamson insisted progress was being made in the inquiry and said the recovered handsets could provide vital clues.

"There have been some very positive developments over the past 24 hours," he said. "I am certain that these phones were all used by Mr Moat."

The first of the three handsets was found in Birtley in the early hours of Saturday - at the scene where Moat's ex-lover Samantha Stobbart, 22, was shot and her new boyfriend, Chris Brown, 29, killed.

A second phone, used to make the two 999 calls to police before and after 42-year-old Pc David Rathband was shot early on Sunday, has also been recovered - but police would not say from where or when.

The third was spotted by a member of the public in the Rothbury area.

Police said it had not been used by the gunman since the two alleged hostages, Karl Ness and Qhuram Awan, were found on Tuesday. Both have since appeared in court charged with conspiracy to murder.

Mr Adamson said: "We have recovered valuable information from them and are pursuing numerous leads in connection with this information.

"This shows the vital role the public are playing in this inquiry."

Hundreds of police officers from 15 different forces, many of them specialist marksmen and sniffer dog handlers, are now involved in the hunt.

No figures are available yet but the vast scale of the manhunt, now in its seventh day, means the final bill is likely to be significantly higher than the £3.2 million spent on the 24-day search for schoolgirl Shannon Matthews.

A Tornado jet was seen flying over Rothbury today as police used imaging equipment to bolster the search.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the jet was sent to the area yesterday after police requested "specific air surveillance support".