The strange life and death of Raoul Moat

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He was a violent, jealous man who murdered one and left two more fighting for their lives before, finally, turning his gun on himself. Yet, with police facing criticism over their handling of the affair, floral tributes placed outside his home portrayed him as a victim. What does this story say about Britain today?

In the end, the Northumbria Constabulary, aided by officers from other forces and high technology up to and including an RAF fighter jet, got their man. Raoul Moat, the violent fugitive who had seriously wounded two people and killed another last weekend, was cornered, by a river, in Rothbury on Friday evening. Then, in the early hours of yesterday, as a searchlight and the muzzles of police guns were trained on him, he shot himself in circumstances which will now be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Its inquiries, to be added to the ones already under way into the Northumbria force's handling of the early stages of the saga, will centre on precisely when, and why, officers twice fired a Taser at Moat after negotiating with him for hours. The implication of police statements was that the Tasers – packing up to 50,000 volts – were fired before Moat pulled the trigger of a shotgun jammed against his own throat. A police press conference yesterday afternoon – peppered with the expressions of thanks to this or that community now deemed obligatory – failed to take questions on this, or on any other matter.

But these – and the more serious questions, such as why Moat's former partner was not protected after a warning from Durham Prison authorities, and the lack of surveillance at the homes of known Moat associates – carry less importance now that the hue and cry has ended without further shedding of innocent blood. It has also ended, mercifully, before the rolling news channels' on-screen consultations with experts in outdoor survival skills could get any more bizarre. It may be helpful, with 24 hours to fill, to busk away the day with musings on how to feed and water yourself in the inhospitable countryside just north of Newcastle, but it struck an odd note when Moat's victims were still on the critical list.

It was around 7pm on Friday evening that Moat was seen by the river, less than 100 yards from the centre of Rothbury. He was surrounded in moments, and ambulance vans and all the paraphernalia of a major stand-off began to arrive. Moat lay on the grass, armed with a sawn-off shotgun. It was pointed at himself. Soon a trained negotiator was in place, talking to him, and, later, arranging for food and water to be brought to him.

People living in the immediate vicinity were confined to their homes, but, behind police cordons in Rothbury (and on the screens of those watching the live television coverage), the stand-off had become a spectacle. Some residents hung from their windows, and the village pubs were packed with people speculating on what would happen next as they stared, transfixed, at the rolling news reports.

Among the journalists and local people wanting to get into the town, a group of teenagers waited at the police cordon for more than an hour, updating their Facebook profiles and hoping, in vain, to see or hear something exciting. Another, who was on her way to visit friends in Rothbury, admitted: "I know this could go on for hours but I can't tear myself away. Something might happen." They didn't try to hide their contempt for the police or their support for Moat. One, a 19-year-old man who would not be named, described him as "mint", adding, "Raoul Moat is a proper legend." One of the two girls with him, Keeley, 17, said: "I thought he'd be out of here by now. The police wouldn't be putting all this effort in if he hadn't shot one of them." Her friend, Tamsin, also 17, said: "I thought they'd just shoot him. He'll be dead popular in prison."

And then, into all this, wandered (blundered, some might say), the figure of Paul Gascoigne, Geordie laddo, football and nightclub legend, and recovering alcoholic. He told a local radio station that he had brought Moat "a can of lager, some chicken, a mobile phone and something to keep warm". He added: "I have come all the way from Newcastle to Rothbury to find him, have a chat with him. I guarantee Moaty won't shoot me. I am good friends with him." Police did not let him through.

The indelible image throughout the hunt was the steroid-enhanced shoulders of Moat supporting a head which glowered out of screen and page. Whether Moat's history of quick temper and ready violence can be linked to steroids is a relevant but unanswerable question. Use of the drug – a derivative of testosterone, which is not illegal to possess but is to supply – has increased, especially among vain young men eager to build up their bodies but break no sweat. Several high-profile murder cases have featured the substance, but no one has been able to say with any certainty if steroids inspire or magnify violence, or whether those innately violent tend to steroid use.

Moat was emphatic about his various motives. As a man arrested 12 times but convicted only once (of assaulting a child), he already felt persecuted by police as he served his brief jail sentence in Durham. Then Samantha Stobbart, his younger partner (she is 22, he 37), informed him that their relationship was over. Fearful of a man who had always sought to settle matters with the threat of his fists or worse, she told him that her new lover was a policeman in the hope that this would keep Moat at bay. But it acted, instead, like a red rag to the bull-like Moat. Almost his first act on release from prison on 1 July was to post on his Facebook page: "I've lost everything, my business, my property and to top it all off my lass of six years has gone off with the copper that sent me down." Anger, resentment, self-pity and a feeling that there was nothing worth living for – a potent cocktail.

When he was stewing during his last days in jail, he made it sufficiently clear that revenge was in his mind for the prison to send, on Friday 2 July, a warning to Northumbria police that Moat may attempt to harm his former partner. No action was taken by the force, and, in the early hours of the following morning, Moat shot dead Chris Brown, Ms Stobbart's partner of just one week, and, through the window of her Gateshead home, shot her. She survived, but was seriously wounded. Last night, Newcastle General Hospital said her condition was "stable".

Nearly 24 hours later, Moat rang 999 and threatened to shoot a police officer. Some 12 minutes after that, he approached PC David Rathband, a married father of two, as he sat in his patrol car, and shot him. The officer was critically wounded. Shortly afterwards, Moat visited a friend called Andy Mcallister and handed him a rambling 49-page letter. The significance of this was not so much its self-centred content as the timing and the place to which it was delivered. Police knew that Moat had visited Mcallister last Saturday night and, as a result, had spent a great deal of Sunday interviewing him. Had they kept his house under observation after they left, they might have been able to capture Moat when he called on Mcallister in the early hours of Monday morning.

But they didn't. Instead, they were left searching for a violent criminal who had vowed, in the lengthy letter, to "keep killing police until I'm dead", had already murdered, and had extensive connections in Newcastle's gangland. The ex-con who walked out of Durham jail with a grudge the previous Thursday was now the subject of what would become one of Britain's biggest manhunts.

Their quarry was unlikely to walk into a Northumbria police station and give himself up. He knew the area north of Newcastle, had often camped out there, had some survival skills, was strong, and, it became clear, was receiving help. (Det Ch Supt Neil Adamson was later to say: "The information, intelligence and advice available to me always led me to believe that Moat was in the Rothbury area.... My enquiries were frustrated by ... apparent assistance for Moat from third parties.")

Despite all the resources (at one time one in 10 of all Britain's firearms officers were in on the operation), Moat was not captured. Then, a breakthrough. A black Lexus, V322 HKX, which police believed to be linked to Moat, was found on Tuesday in Rothbury, 26 miles north of Newcastle. Two men, initially thought to be Moat's hostages, were found walking nearby and were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder. By 11.15am that Tuesday, Rothbury was locked down, with a two-mile ground exclusion zone, and a five-mile one in its air space. Armed officers and equipment poured into the area.

The next day, as the search went on, police said that a letter was found in a tent where Moat was believed to have camped. Later, a £10,000 reward was offered for Moat's capture, and two further men were arrested on suspicion of assisting him. Mobile phones used by Moat were found, and police asked for a blackout on the reporting of the fugitive's private life. In one of his messages, he had apparently said that he would kill a member of the public for every instance of misreporting of his life. He did not specify what, if any, errors had been made.

As Thursday became Friday, armchair chief constables all over the country were wondering why police were still combing the Rothbury area, speculating that Moat had, perhaps with underworld help, long since spirited himself many miles away. But police were right to concentrate on this village. Early on Friday evening, he was spotted.

Officers rushed, in considerable force, to the scene, and soon had Moat at bay by the River Coquet. Less than seven hours later police Tasers and Moat's sawn-off shotgun were fired. He was pronounced dead at hospital before dawn.

There is now the usual aftermath of such events: the gathering of the remaining forensic evidence, the inquiries, the reports from television journalists amazed that Rothbury should start to get back to normal, and, hopefully, the recovery of Samantha Stobbart and David Rathband. But there was yesterday another, unsettling, coda to this violent chain of events. Outside Raoul Moat's home were beginning to accumulate candles, cards, flowers and messages. "Dear Raoul Thomas Moat, may you rest in peace. Our thoughts are with you and your close friends. We were on your side even though we didn't know you that well," read one, and another: "To Raoul, Always a good friend. Always happy to help a mate. Hope now you've found some peace. Gone but never forgotten." One said Moat was "misunderstood".

He killed a man he didn't know, seriously wounded a woman and a police officer, and assaulted a little girl. But well-wishers wanted to grant him the sentimentalising gestures normally reserved for the victims of crime and accidents. Some of these, like messages left on Facebook, seemed to be from friends; others plainly not. However incongruous it may seem, Raoul Moat had a constituency.

Additional reporting by James Burton and Tom Foot

Seven days of dithering

Friday 2 July Durham Prison warns Northumbria Police that Moat may intend to cause serious harm to his partner but police fail to act.

Saturday 3 July Moat is not named as the suspect for 12 hours after Sam Stobbart is shot twice. Despite learning of a visit made by Moat to close friend Andy Mcallister on Saturday evening, police do not watch the house.

Sunday 4 July A large-scale operation is launched. An ex-girlfriend tells police "he'll come up here" – but police don't arrive until Tuesday.

Monday 5 July Police miss Moat when he returns to Mcallister's to drop off his 49-page "murder statement". They release details of the Lexus car Moat has been driving. Locals say it had been in the village all day.

Tuesday 6 July A farmer alerts police to smoke in fields where the killer is believed to have camped – it is 90 minutes before officers arrive.

Wednesday 7 July Police find Moat's camp after a 24-hour search with dogs, a helicopter with thermal imaging – but he has gone.

Yesterday The Independent Police Complaints Commission confirms it is investigating two Taser shots fired by police during the standoff.

End of the manhunt: The heavens open and minutes later a gunshot is heard

Friday 9 July, 7.30pm Police warn residents to go back inside their homes – journalists are told to take cover inside their cars.

7.55pm Police confirm that they have Moat "contained", between the bowling green and riverbank in Rothbury.

9pm The coverage takes an unusual turn when Jon Sopel, of the BBC, interviews a witness on a pink mobile phone. The camera zooms in on the mouthpiece. Moat is lying down with a sawn-off shotgun pointed at his head, the speaker says.

9.25pm Police impose an air exclusion zone on the area.

9.45pm Moat's friend Tony Laidler is reportedly escorted past the police cordon.

10.00pm The first photograph of Moat since he went on the run appears, along with one of a police marksmen holding a Taser gun and apparently shouting in disbelief at the photographer.

10.22pm The former England football player Paul Gascoigne reportedly arrives at the police cordon claiming to be Moat's friend.

10.45pm Rothbury councillor Steven Bridgett says that Moat is sitting "less than five metres away from a tunnel that runs under the village".

11.30pm Food and water is brought for Moat.

Yesterday 12.30am The grandmother of Moat's ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart says that she is surprised that Moat didn't "come out shooting, so they would shoot him".

1.05am Footage from night-vision cameras reveals a number of armed officers with their weapons trained on the man believed to be Moat.

1.10am The heavens open above Rothbury.

1.20am With the rain now lashing down, a gunshot is fired. There is furious shouting from police officers.

1.37am Eyewitness Peter Abiston, whose house overlooks the scene, says he believes that the man shot himself.

1.55am An ambulance, accompanied by two police cars, is seen speeding away from Rothbury to Newcastle General Hospital.

2.20am Northumbria Police confirm that "no shots were fired by police officers" and "it appears the suspect shot himself".

3.12am Northumbria Police confirm that Moat died in hospital after shooting himself.

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