Tyne & Wear

Hunt intensifies for suspected gunman Raoul Moat

rothbury map

Searches of woodland and countryside are continuing around a town in north-east England in the hunt for suspected armed killer Raoul Moat.

Officers carried out a "systematic operation" around Rothbury, Northumberland, throughout the night in a bid to trace the 37-year-old.

A two-mile exclusion zone around the town which was put in place on Tuesday has been relaxed and schools are open.

Moat is wanted over the shooting of three people. One man was killed.

The former nightclub bouncer's ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart, 22, was shot twice and her new partner Chris Brown, 29, killed in Birtley, Gateshead on Saturday.

Farms searched

Pc David Rathband, 42, was shot in his patrol car in Newcastle on Sunday.

Northumbria Police have urged people in the area around Rothbury to report anything suspicious.

Armed officers were brought into the town on Tuesday after the discovery of a black Lexus car which police had been searching for in connection with Moat.

Vehicles entering and leaving the town were checked and teams of armed officers scoured fields, woodland and empty farm buildings in search of Moat, who is from the Fenham area of Newcastle.

Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Jim Campbell said the air search had been hampered on Tuesday night by heavy rain and the search was proving a "challenge".

He said: "We were aware a search of this open farmland area with many abandoned buildings and dense areas of woodland posed a particular challenge.

"Despite a large-scale search conducted by specialist teams we have not yet located Moat.

"Our message remains the same - if you see this man, who has a distinctive appearance, call the police straight away."

Mr Moat's ex-girlfriend said she told police how much he enjoyed the countryside.

Yvette Foreman, 35, who dated the former doorman when they were in their early 20s, said: "It's his favourite place in the whole world.

"I told police as soon as I heard he was on the loose he'd be heading for here and they did nothing."

'Criss-cross countryside'

Sir Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick, which covers Rothbury, said there was a lot of scope to hide in surrounding valleys, dense woodland and hills.

He said: "The area offers lots of cover, there is great potential for hiding and it is a very difficult place to search.

"So it is easy to criss-cross the countryside - and we know this is someone who has camped in the area so he has the capacity to hide there.

"There are a lot of isolated cottages and farmhouses, but people will have been phoning each other and checking on relations to see if they are OK.

"The police have got a demanding job - there is a great deal of risk - this is a man who wants to shoot police officers and who has already."

Over the past few days, police have been handed a a 49-page handwritten letter apparently from Moat in which he "declared war" on them.

Image caption Teams of armed police officers scoured fields and woodland in search of Moat

In the letter, Moat said: "The public need not fear me but the police should as I won't stop 'till I'm dead."

Mr Campbell said that a "stringent two-mile exclusion zone" around the town had been downgraded but warned officers would still be patrolling the area and vehicles entering and leaving the town would be checked.

"We want to reassure residents in the Rothbury area that despite this activity it is still very much 'business as usual' for local residents," he said.

"Schools in Rothbury will be fully open on Wednesday and police resources will be in place to reassure parents that they can safely take their children to and from school.

"We will continue to keep a large and highly visible police presence in the town of Rothbury for as long as necessary while the search continues."

On Tuesday, Northumbria Police revealed two men believed to have been taken hostage by Moat had been found and subsequently arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder.

A third man was also arrested earlier in the Wrekenton area of Gateshead in connection with the investigation.

Pc Rathband suffered wounds to his face and upper body in the shooting and has been said to be critical but stable after undergoing surgery.

Miss Stobbart's condition was said to be "improving".

Moat was released from Durham Prison on Thursday after an 18-week sentence for assault.

Officers had been warned he may have been planning to harm his former girlfriend and Northumbria Police said they had referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Moat is described as 6ft 3in (1.9m) tall and of muscular build. Family members said that he used body-building steroids.

These have been linked to aggressive behaviour. His family have also said he was prone to "eruptions of anger".

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