Police face hard questions over Moat search blunders
Robert Chesshyre: Police in Northumbria hid behind IPCC ‘self-referral’ as Moat eluded them
Following the suicide of Raoul Moat, who shot himself after a six-hour stand-off with police in Rothbury in the early hours of this morning, there are a host of questions awaiting answer by the Independent Police Complaints Commission - to whom the local force, the Northumbria Constabulary has already referred itself - and possibly by a public inquiry.
Before killing himself, Moat apparently managed to run rings round his avowed enemy, the police, and still be on the run a week after he committed his terrible crimes.
Unlike the Cumbria police - also heavily criticised for allowing deranged gunman Derrick Bird to continue his bloody rampage for several hours - the Northumbria Constabulary is a sizeable force, which includes not just the rural area where Moat went to ground but also Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead and Sunderland.
Its detectives will be experienced, streetwise cops, which makes even more extraordinary the failure both to find one desperate man for a week and to perform the basic police work that could have averted this shooting spree.
The case does again raise the question as to why England has 43 separate police forces. Northumbria had to call in Scotland Yard marksmen and armoured vehicles from Northern Ireland.
The initial (and still chief) blunder was to do nothing about the warning given by Durham prison authorities that Moat left the jail on July 1 "full of rage" and "hell-bent on revenge" against his former girlfriend, Samantha Stobbart.
Historically, the criminal justice system has never been good at joined-up thinking - courts, prisons, police and probation often seemed to operate in different boxes - so it was a welcome step in the right direction that Durham jail did issue the warning.
Police moan endlessly about 'paperwork': was this advice regarded as just more boring paperwork? Had they responded to the prison alert, and posted two armed officers outside Ms Stobbart's home, they would at least have deterred Moat from his initial attack which left Stobbart seriously injured and her new boyfriend, Chris Brown, dead, and might well have captured the gunman.
The next (thus far known) mistake was a failure to respond to a call from a friend of Moat's, Andy McAllister, whom the gunman visited twice, the first time just 21 hours after his attack on Stobbart and Brown. Despite the fact that McAllister called the police "three or four times", it took officers well over an hour to go to McAllister’s home. Moat showed up again at 1.30am on Monday, having by this time also shot and seriously wounded traffic officer, PC David Rathband.
McAllister told reporters: "[The police] knew that [Moat] had been to my house once - I would have thought they would have been watching." The police response to this damning accusation was that it was "not appropriate" to discuss whether officers had kept a watch on the McAllister home. Presumably they hadn't.
The force was bound to report itself to the IPCC, but a self-referral does have the advantage from the police point of view that they can justify not answering questions by hiding beneath a sub judice blanket. "We will reserve our explanations till the appropriate time before the appropriate tribunal." It sounds sonorous and responsible and the hope is, often, that matters will take a turn for the better and/or blunders will be water under the bridge by the time of any official inquiry.
Clearly (and rightly) the force wanted to head off any sneaking 'Robin Hood' - the fugitive in the forest - support there might have been for Moat. Their rather confused suggestion on Thursday that it was not only the police but also the wider public who might become his targets was designed, in part, to make Moat not merely an adversary of the Northumbria police, as had first been suggested, but public enemy number one.
The most notorious case of a criminal going on the run in the countryside in the British post-war era was in 1966 when Harry Roberts hid in Epping Forest for three months after he and two others had shot three police officers dead in west London.
Roberts had been a soldier in the Malayan emergency and knew his field craft, but also - and here there is a direct comparison with the hunt for Moat - he knew the terrain well. Roberts had been evacuated as a child to Epping Forest during the Second World War: body builder and one-time bouncer Moat had regularly roamed the countryside near Rothbury.
Another former girlfriend, Yvette Foreman, said that Moat knew the area where he was hiding "like the back of his hand". She added her opinion that he would be able to survive for days in the woods where once they camped. It is a densely forested area, and another local said that finding a man there - however many police were deployed - was like "finding a needle in a haystack".
That said, there are today many more technical aids than when Roberts was being sought, most usefully in this case, heat-detecting equipment attached to helicopters that can pinpoint the warmth of a body. The weapons, such as the latest sniper rifles, now at police disposal mean that a gunman on the run is, in effect, facing a small army.
Robert Chesshyre is a writer on police affairs and author of 'The Force: Inside the Police' ·
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