Ghouls visiting the scene of killer gunman Raoul Moat's last stand were blamed today for putting villagers' lives in danger.
Gawkers at the riverside spot in Rothbury, Northumberland, have repeatedly left open a metal flap at the front of a culvert where the murderer is thought to have hidden during his final days after going on the run from Northumbria Police.
Environment Agency officials said the solid steel barrier, at the front of the Coplish Burn, was a vital part of the village's flood defences.
If the flap was left open during a flood, 28 businesses and eight residential properties would be deluged.
Rothbury was hit by severe flooding in September 2008 and in July last year when the River Coquet burst its banks, submerging bridges and a children's play park.
Steven Bridgett, Northumberland County councillor for the village, said he had seen people climbing inside the culvert to pose for photographs.
Mr Bridgett, who is a flood warden for the village, said: "The culvert lid is there to stop the village being flooded. The storm drain pumps storm water from one of the burns which runs down from the hill underneath the village and into the river.
"If the river floods and the lid is open then the flow of water is reversed and directed into the centre of the village, which is very bad news.
"We have had severe problems with flooding in the past and do not want a repeat.
"The drain lid is just five metres away from where Moat died.
"People have been coming down and lifting up the storm drain lid and actually climbing inside and taking pictures.
"We have had pensioners, families; a lot of people.
"Nobody in Rothbury wants that site to be remembered or for people to be there at all.
"What bothers me more is that the lid is solid metal.
"It is very, very heavy and if it fell on someone they would die.
"It is extremely dangerous."
Environment Agency operations delivery team leader Paul Constantine said he was receiving repeated reports the flap was being left open by people visiting the site.
Agency officials must visit the site to close the flap following each report.
He said: "Leaving the flap open at this culvert in Rothbury is dangerous.
"It would cause terrible damage to properties and endanger people's lives in Rothbury if it were left open during a flood event.
"We are appealing for whoever is doing this to stop putting people, homes, and businesses in Rothbury at risk."
The flap is a key part of the village's flood defences as it prevents water from the Coquet flowing back through the culvert into the centre of the village when the river is high.
The Environment Agency spent £385,000 to create the flood defence in September last year.
Former nightclub doorman Moat, 37, sparked a huge manhunt after shooting his ex-lover Sam Stobbart, 22, in Birtley, Gateshead, and killing her new boyfriend, 29-year-old karate instructor Chris Brown.
The next day he targeted Pc David Rathband, 42, blinding the father-of-two as he was on static patrol on an A1 roundabout in Newcastle.
Northumbria Police has extended bail until the first week in November for the 17 people arrested in July on suspicion of helping the gunman during his time on the run.Reuse content