The violent life and death of Raoul Moat – and what we have learned since

The ex-doorman shot three, killing one, before committing suicide during a stand-off with police eight days ago. So why did 30,000 join a Facebook group extolling him as a legend? And what do the week's revelations tell us about him – and us?

Jonathan Brown
Sunday 18 July 2010 00:00

The Taser controversy

It emerged at the opening of the inquest into the death of Raoul Moat on Tuesday that he was shot twice by police using long-range Tasers.

Steve Reynolds, the Independent Police Complaints Commission's senior investigator, told the coroner in Newcastle: "At 1.12am [on Saturday], Mr Moat's shotgun discharged, resulting in him receiving fatal injuries. At some point around the same time of the fatal shot, two West Yorkshire firearms officers armed with Tasers discharged their weapons at Mr Moat. This was understood to have been in an effort to prevent Mr Moat taking his own life." He said the precise sequence of who shot when was still to be established and was being investigated.

It emerged that Northumbria Police's temporary chief constable, Sue Sim, took an unusual decision to buy a new type of "super" Taser from its US manufacturers. The shotgun-launched XRep Tasers, still awaiting Home Office approval, were purchased just days before they were deployed at the end of the six-hour stand-off in Rothbury. They have a range of 100ft – five times that of the conventional Taser – and are capable of disabling a victim for 20 seconds at a time. The West Yorkshire police officers who pulled the triggers could have had only a matter of hours to familiarise themselves with the new weapons. Audio recorded by Sky News appeared to have captured the three-second period in which three shots were fired – two Taser discharges and the fatal shot from Moat's own sawn-off shotgun.

Developed by a Nasa researcher in the late 1960s, the Taser has become both a potent symbol of and powerful response to growing fears over gun and knife crime in the UK. The devices have been discharged more than 6,000 times since being introduced in the UK in 2004 and have proved popular with police officers as a non-lethal alternative to conventional firearms. Research shows that the red laser dot used to aim the device is highly effective at persuading individuals to comply with the police. The weapon works by disabling the body's neuromuscular system through a high-voltage electrical discharge propelled from a handheld device. They were initially restricted to use by fully trained firearms teams, but the then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, widened their availability in 2008 to all 30,000 frontline response officers in England and Wales.

Kicking it into the long grass

Under the relentless gaze of the 24-hour news cameras, Northumbria Police took little time in seeking to head off media criticism by referring key aspects of the inquiry to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, a familiar approach which frustrates the media but gives the force breathing space. The watchdog was already investigating Northumbria's conduct in failing to follow up on prison officers' warnings that Moat had threatened to kill on his release from jail, when, just an hour and a half after he was confirmed dead at Newcastle general hospital, the IPCC's on-duty senior investigator received another call from force headquarters. Investigators arrived at the scene shortly after daybreak and agreed terms of reference with senior officers over the scope of their inquiry. The new probe will examine the final hours leading up to Moat's death.

Investigators from Wakefield and Manchester, led by a former head of Essex CID, Steve Reynolds, who investigated the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, spent much of last week carrying out house-to-house inquiries, questioning the officers involved in the final stand-off and examining the paper trail leading to the final decision to pull the Taser trigger.

The inquiry is expected to last between two and three months, but the publication of any findings will depend on the decision of the Newcastle coroner, David Mitford, who will not want the IPCC report to interfere with his investigation into the deaths of Moat and his victim Chris Brown. Meanwhile, the coroner must wait until he receives a full report from Northumbria Police, which will be able to argue that it cannot speak about key aspects of the manhunt because it is under investigation. The final outcome will inevitably shine a light on the work of the IPCC, which was set up in 2004 to bring greater accountability to investigations of police conduct. Last year, it was responsible for 106 investigations – more than three times the number it investigated in 2004-05. This week, Northumbria Police pleaded with journalists not to approach the officers involved in the final stages of shooting because of the IPCC inquiry.

Where did he hide?

Following Moat's death, it was widely reported he had spent much of his time on the run hiding in a storm drain, well known to locals, that ran beneath Rothbury High Street – even using a manhole cover to surface at will to break into houses and scavenge allotments. It was here he was spotted at 7pm on Friday 9 July. The suspect had been right under police noses all along, it was claimed, but police later insisted the culvert had been searched and showed no sign of human habitation.

Moat as police informer

Moat's ability to avoid prosecution, despite being arrested up to 12 times – including his arrest for conspiracy to murder in 2000 – meant he was either very lucky or, as he claimed, was the victim of ongoing police harassment. Moat's rampage began after being released from an 18-week sentence for an assault on his daughter – for which he claimed he was "fitted up" by the police.

This week, however, a new theory emerged: that Moat was one of a growing band of paid police informers. A former friend, Brian Moulding, claimed he had evidence that the former doorman was happy to co-operate with police when it suited him. "I often wondered why he constantly seemed to escape justice whenever he ended up before the courts, and that's when I realised. Given his history and his constantly saying he hated police, you would not believe his past. It was a front to cover what he was in front of his criminal associates."

Northumbria Police refused to comment on the allegation that Moat was a registered CHIS – Covert Human Intelligence Source – but modern forces rely heavily on informants. A Freedom of Information request revealed that in 2008-09, forces in Britain spent £6m on gathering intelligence in this way, though this is just the tip of the iceberg, with many trading information for leniency. Some contacts were paid in excess of £100,000. Northumbria Police was the seventh highest spending force, spending £191,602 on informants. Patricia Gallan, the assistant chief constable of Merseyside Police, described the practice as "a valuable source of intelligence ... justifiable and proportionate when set against other police tactics". If Moat was a registered informant it might also help to explain the depth of his hatred for the police.

A family affair

Divorce rates may have dropped slowly in Britain in recent years, but more than 100,000 children still live in homes with an absent parent. In some ways, Raoul Moat was a very modern father and son. It emerged this week that he fathered six children from a string of relationships in his short life, having lost contact with three of his offspring; and that he too claimed to have been deeply scarred by his own absent father, a French national, who left Moat's mother, Josephine, not long after his birth.

Prior to his sudden notoriety Moat was completely estranged from his mother and had not spoken to his brother Angus for seven years. Though relations within the family had been relatively good until Moat discovered steroids and weightlifting, the bodybuilder's outer strength masked a deep inner fragility. Moments before he pulled the trigger on himself, he told officers: "I've no dad and no one cares about me." Moat's mother claimed her son had threatened to kill her. Angus insisted he still loved his younger brother, though he was appalled by his actions. He complained he had effectively been "publicly executed" live on television. He said his offers to negotiate had been rejected. The police insisted the situation was too dangerous and Moat too unstable.

Mad, not bad?

Moat liked to record his thoughts. During the hunt, police received two long letters outlining his grievances and a four-hour tape littered with threats to those who doubted his version of himself as a deeply wronged family man. This week, more tapes emerged – 50 hours' worth – clandestinely recorded during meetings with social workers, friends and family between July 2009 and April 2010. Friends claim he meant them to be some kind of justification, explanation even, for what came later. And the short fragments that were aired by ITV News, to which the tapes were passed, reveal Moat was aware of his shortcomings and sought to rationalise them. In one recording, he says: "I would like a psychiatrist, psychologist, [to] have a word with me regularly ... to see if there's somewhere underlying like where I have problems that I haven't seen." In another, he says: "I'm quite emotionally unstable, you know. I get myself over-the-top happy sometimes, you know. And I have my bad days, you know... The more you block things out, the more numb you become in the heart... you get to a point where happiness to you is just like, you know, neither here nor there."

The steroid underclass

At the start of the manhunt, much of the explanation for Moat's sudden murderous anger was blamed on his long-term use of steroids – so-called roid-rage. Moat was hardly alone in his steroid abuse. Crime surveys estimate there are 79,000 people taking steroids to help them build muscle, though many experts believe this figure is closer to 250,000, with numbers doubling in the past five years. North-east England has the highest rates of lifetime steroid use, with almost 12 users in every 1,000 people. Many users are unaware the drugs are illegal and the internet has made them available from cheap sources in India and China. Many in the security industry, where Moat worked for much of his life, see a beefed-up body as vital in getting a job.

However, experts question the link to steroid use in Moat's case. They say that, while not impossible, it is unlikely he would have been able to get steroids in prison. Jim McVeigh, of John Moores University, says: "There would certainly be no residual effects from steroids on Moat's personality. When you stop using, the amount of testosterone in your body does not return to a normal level; instead, it dips below what is normal."

The carnival atmosphere

Dismay has been mounting in the Northumbrian village of Rothbury this week over the laying of flowers, cards and tributes, with strangers stopping to take pictures of themselves at the spot where Moat died. It is a phenomenon observable across Britain at thousands of roadside shrines. But the picturesque market town wants to put recent events behind it and move on to enjoy the music festival, which it is staging this weekend, untainted by the macabre tourists now flocking there. Extra police have been drafted in to cope with the expected upsurge in interest. Saturation coverage of the manhunt on rolling news channels on an otherwise quiet week certainly generated interest. The "cult" of Moat spread rapidly via the internet. At one point the words "Raoul Moat" were the number one topic on Twitter, and sick jokes about him spread via text and email. At the height of the stand-off, the former England footballer Paul Gascoigne turned up, demanding to talk to his old friend "Moaty". Last week, it emerged that Gascoigne, still recovering from a serious car crash, could not even remember the name of the man he was coming to "negotiate" with and had to be reminded by the taxi driver ferrying him to Rothbury.

Meanwhile, back at Moat's former home, an unkempt redbrick semi in Fenham, Newcastle, ghoulish souvenir hunters made off with keepsakes. Four people were seen walking off with a picnic bench, and children's toys left behind in the overgrown front garden were also taken.

The Facebook phenomenon

That more than 30,000 people joined a Facebook site "RIP Raoul Moat You Legend" glorifying the gunman's murderous shooting spree and subsequent attempts to evade the massive police manhunt brought unequivocal condemnation from David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday. He told MPs: "As far as I can see, it is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer – full stop, end of story – and I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man." Facebook resisted pressure to take the site down, insisting that, while distasteful, it did not break any rules.

The social networking site is no stranger to tragic and deeply unsavoury stories, but, with 26 million users, it has become a world in itself – mirroring the best and worst of those who live in the real world. In the end, the page's creator, Siobhan O'Dowd – who had earlier said "It's funny... I think he's a legend for keeping police on their toes for a week" – deleted the site voluntarily. But she added: "We don't condone what he did, as what he did was wrong. I feel sorry for the families, but he was still a human being at the end of the day."

Sympathy: why?

Public emoting for Raoul Moat has remained overwhelmingly confined to the internet, where anonymous support and indulgence of socially unacceptable beliefs or dislike of the police can remain largely consequence-free. While it may be hard to understand how anyone could look up to a figure like Moat, those living in the insular, often deprived communities of the sort that come to wider attention only when they have a missing Shannon Matthews or a Raoul Moat in their midst can often see the world very differently.

Though better spelled and argued, the comment strings on the websites of many broadsheet newspapers display similarly visceral intolerance of others' views. But opinions about Moat the man have been largely dependent on which side of his volcanic temper people found themselves. There was no shortage of acquaintances willing to come forward to declare him a "canny lad" last week in Newcastle. Equal numbers felt intimidated by him. Most preferred to stay silent. Social workers, council staff or police who were ordered to stay at home for fear he might seek them out will have little in the way of positive things to say about him.

His former partner, Marissa Reid, 32, mother to two of his children, knew him better than most. She described how he beat her with his fists and a baseball bat and raped her while she was tied to a bed. "That man was a living, breathing monster. Thank God, he's dead. He made my and my children's lives a misery. I can never forgive him for that," she said.