Raoul Moat - Mind games

'ALL my life I wanted death, hence the reason I took risks, made the worst kind of enemies and behaved the way I did."

In the early hours of Saturday morning, as a single shot echoed around the banks of the tranquil River Coquet, Raoul Thomas Moat finally got his wish. Throughout his 37 years Moat craved – and violently demanded – complete control of the events that unfolded around him. Throughout the past week, with that grip rapidly slipping away, the muscle-bound fugitive was able to leave behind a frantically scrawled series of letters in which he attempted to explain and justify his behaviour.

Written mainly in capitals, the missives, signed simply "RT Moat", are menacing, cloying, intense, delusional and nauseatingly self-aggrandising. "The public need not fear me, but the police should as I won't stop until I'm dead. They've hunted me for years, now it's my turn."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Those letters, which he saw as his way of writing his own myth, would have another purpose: they would provide police with a crucial insight into his mind. And using forensic psychology, the letters would allow officers to develop a strategy for influencing and even controlling his behaviour from a distance.

So what turned a former Newcastle schoolboy who shocked his mum by keeping spiders in his pockets into a vengeance-crazed gunman who declared a one-man war on Northumbria Police? What drove the erstwhile Bigg Market bouncer to set his sights on his former partner, policemen and wider society before turning them on himself? And how did police use an acute appreciation of how his mind worked to try to bring him to justice?

Professor David Wilson, director of the centre for applied criminology at Birmingham City University, says Moat had become engulfed by narcissistic delusions and a festering sense of grievance. He told Scotland on Sunday: "Moat clearly tried to manage how people would think about what he did. He tried to construct an image of himself as a latter-day Robin Hood, a Rambo – in fact in one letter he even compared himself to the Incredible Hulk. Of course, in the comics the Hulk was a force for good in the community, and that is exactly how Moat tried to present himself. He wanted to be seen as an ordinary man who took action after a final straw was broken."

Contrary to those delusions, Wilson holds that Moat was little more than a paranoid and violent bully. "This entire chain of events can be seen as an extension of the domestic violence that he perpetrated in the past. This was a man who used violence to get his own way, he was a man who liked control and power and tried to maintain it right to the end.

"Raoul Moat was the typical domestic abuser who hits his partner, says sorry and expects to be forgiven because, in his faulty thinking, it was his partner's fault. All along he believed he was the victim."

Raised by his grandmother in Newcastle's West End, close to where his father and French-born mother lived, Moat's adult life was dominated by encounters with the police. In the past decade, Moat, a steroid-abusing bodybuilder, was arrested on a dozen occasions and charged with seven separate offences – including assault and possession of a knuckle duster.

Previous partners say he harboured violent desires about gaining revenge on those he believed had wronged him.

Parallels have been drawn between the volatile doorman and Travis Bickle, the psychotic star of the 1976 film Taxi Driver. Moat, like Bickle, shaved his hair into a Mohican, acquired firearms and enacted his long-suppressed vigilante fantasies after being spurned by a woman.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Chillingly, given the violent nature of his actions and threats, experts believe that Moat had retained the loyalty of some friends and even gained sympathy among pockets of the general public. Wilson said: "Moat clearly had community support in some quarters. He was given shelter, he was given food, he was given a firearm, he was given ammunition. He also had messages of support on his Facebook page and was partly successful in constructing an image of a decent, ordinary bloke whose girlfriend got chatted up while he was in prison.

"That is partly why the police released information saying that Moat had targeted the wider public – not just police. The message they were trying to get across was: 'This is not Robin Hood operating here, this is a very dangerous man and he might target you or your family."

Dr Steve Hall, of Northumbria University in Moat's native Newcastle, was in no doubt that many former colleagues and associates in the bar and nightclub trade would have stood by him. The senior lecturer in criminology said: "In Newcastle we have some pretty tough characters, like Moat, who hold very old-fashioned, almost medieval codes of honour.

"They get into scrapes together and develop strong cultures of support and internal trust for each other. They are almost sworn to help each other. It would offend their honour if they didn't."

Hall believes Moat had been shaped in part by the values of the city's "hardman" culture. "Moat sat beneath an open window for an hour and a half listening to his former girlfriend and her new boyfriend and that completed his feeling of humiliation. He had quite a defined sense of honour. Moat took physical action to try to restore that honour and went past the point of no return."

Could the seven-day standoff have ended differently? What is becoming clear is that the police made an enormous effort, with the help of clinical psychologists, to develop a clear idea of Moat's thinking – and then used those insights to try to influence his behaviour and lure him into capture.

On Wednesday, Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson, who led the manhunt, appeared to lavish praise on the 37-year-old fugitive who had thus far eluded a dragnet, which in terms of scale and manpower was unprecedented in his force's history.

He told the press: "We believe him to be a measured individual who appears to carefully plan his actions and is comfortable in an outdoor environment." The positive description of a figure who had recently written "I will keep killing police until I am dead" caused raised eyebrows among many present. Significantly, at the extraordinary briefing Adamson did not renew his previous, direct appeals for the alleged killer to surrender.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Why did a senior police officer lavish praise on the survivalist outdoorsman skills – and mental stability – of a individual who shot his former lover and killed her new partner before gunning down a police officer? Why the charm offensive on the most wanted man in Britain?

Wilson believes the overtures exchanged between senior officers and the gunman were significant. "The police tried to generate a rapport with him so he might begin to trust what they were saying. They needed to reach out to Moat, which is why they acknowledged his skills and gave credence to his abilities.

"Moat had written that he had nothing left to live for and when people think like that, they are basically trying to give themselves permission to behave in any way they want.

"What the police tried to do was to remind him that he is a father of three children and by literally saying to him, as they did, 'you have a future'."

The Scots-born expert and author is certain that the fugitive former nightclub doorman will have heard each appeal made toward him over the past week. "There is no doubt that Raoul Moat was listening very carefully to every word that was being said at the police press conferences. He may have had a net-enabled mobile phone, he might have had a computer, he might have had a radio.

"Moat took a keen interest in how the media were interpreting his behaviour and what people thought about his actions. That is why he left letters for the police to find."

Police wrote back, using Moat's associates to pass letters on. The content of these letters is not yet known, but they are likely to have been in the same respectful, even complimentary tone, engaging him and encouraging him to communicate. The constant communication perhaps even provided an outlet for his frustrations that did not involve a shotgun and deadly ammunition.

However, the burly weightlifter's monstrous ego caused the episode to take an even more sinister turn, which only now can be revealed. Police recovered a Dictaphone of Moat's rantings in which he threatened to kill unnamed members of the public if the press continued to publish unflattering articles about his private life. Tabloids had run revelations ranging from his reliance on steroids, to his treatment of his children to the reportedly small size of his penis.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Quickly and quietly Northumbria Police instigated a clandestine media blackout. In a letter sent to British newspaper and broadcasting executives, the force's director of legal services wrote: "Putting it bluntly, this is a potential life and death situation. It is clear that Mr Moat's rules have changed and he's getting angrier."

Detectives, in short, needed the media to co-operate with the charm offensive. Officers could not instruct editors to comply, but most did.

The strategy was not, however, all plain sailing. Mistakes were made. At a public meeting intended to help assure locals in the village, a senior police officer read out a message of support from a young boy who referred to Moat as a "nutter". This was way off-script. If Moat was told he was a 'nutter', the chances were he would behave like one, with bloody consequences. An apology was swiftly issued.

Ultimately, detectives did come face to face with the man whose mind they had been studying for a week. Cornered near the village culvert where he is thought to have been holed up, they spent six hours talking to him on Friday night and into yesterday morning.

Snatches of the conversation overheard by locals and reporters confirmed that the mind games were still being played according to the script, with Moat being chummily called by his first name, being offered food and drink (which was accepted), and being constantly assured of his safety as long as he did not point his shotgun at a police officer. "No-one has harmed you yet," Moat was told.

But with the rain teeming down and the cold setting in, the effort by police negotiators to sustain a mood of forward-looking positivity, of Moat having a life that was still worth living, proved unsuccessful.

One of the few things said by Moat that was overheard by onlookers was him saying, plaintively: "Nobody cares for me." This is the last thing the officers wanted to hear.

Today, as body-armour wearing officers leave and exclusion zones are dismantled, life in Rothbury and the surrounding area is slowly returning to normal. Only Moat's deranged words remain. "I'm a killer and a maniac, but I ain't no coward," he wrote.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In reality, however, he was not brave enough to face the consequences of his actions, the inevitable prison and opprobrium. So he pulled the trigger and brought a bloody end to a nightmarish seven days where a killer lurked in the shadows of a quiet village – and, both horrified and transfixed, a nation looked on.