Survival expert Ray Mears has broken a three-year silence to speak of his role in the hunt for gun maniac Raoul Moat.
The bush tracker and TV presenter has told how he joined a Tornado fighter jet and scores of armed police officers in the £1 million-plus search for the former doorman in Northumberland.
They were all called in after Moat and his accomplices went to ground in woodland surrounding the town of Rothbury in July 2010.
Moat went on the run after shooting Chris Brown, 29, who had started a relationship with his ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart.
Mears, 49, contacted a police search adviser he had met at a lecture years earlier to offer his expert skills – and after police discovered an abandoned campsite on the outskirts of Rothbury, he was called in to help.
The bushcraft expert has now revealed that at one point he was within just 20ft of the gunman after eight hours of moving stealthily through dense forest.
He described the scene when he arrived in Rothbury as like something “out of a Hollywood film set” with bright lights, police snipers, helicopters circling overhead and the Tornado making reconnaissance sorties.
“It was all a bit surreal,” Mears told a local newspaper. “This is the first time I’ve talked about it and it’s because I feel there has been sufficient water under the bridge.”
Mears, who was speaking ahead of the publication of his autobiography later this month, added: “It was such a unique set of circumstances. I have experience of tracking for 40 years.
“I can’t imagine there would be that many people in the country who would have been in a position to help the police find someone who had gone into hiding who needed to be found.
“It was a real-life hunt; within my skill set but outside of my comfort zone.”
Mears revealed that senior police officers later told him that Moat’s emergence from hiding was a direct result of his own presence with armed officers.
Moat killed Mr Brown and seriously injured Ms Stobbart in the shooting in Birtley, Gateshead, two days after he was released from prison.
The following day the 37-year-old bodybuilder blasted unarmed Pc David Rathband in the face, leaving him blind.
The officer was found hanged at his home in Blyth, Northumberland, in February last year.
The huge search for Moat, involving officers from 18 forces, was one of the biggest police operations seen in the UK.
The rapidly evolving manhunt gripped the nation, with information relayed live from the scene by local and international media, bringing police tactics under close scrutiny..
Moat, a 17-stone steroid addict, was finally cornered at the edge of the River Coquet on the evening of July 9.
Following a five-hour stand-off with armed police the father-of-three shot himself in the head at the moment officers deployed Tasers to try to disable him.
Moat was declared dead in the early hours of the following day.