Death in Rothbury

After a restless, uncomfortable night I woke up this morning as usual to the 7am BBC News on Radio 3. The lead item was the death  of Raoul Moat by his own hand in the small Northumberland town of Rothbury. Moat was released from Durham prison last week, and proceeded to Birtley where he shot his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, killing him and wounding her. He then made his way north to Newcastle where he shot an unarmed police officer, carried on to Seaton Delaval on the coast where he held up a chip shop, and eventually wound up in Rothbury early this week. The small town and its environs were flooded with armed police but they didn’t find Moat until last night. After a long standoff, Moat eventually shot himself apparently with a sawn-off shotgun.

I don’t mind admitting that this story has unsettled me on several levels, which is why I’m writing about it here. I’ve found doing this blog quite cathartic on some past occasions and hope it will do the same job again now.

I suppose the first thing to explain is that I was born in Newcastle. Although I haven’t lived in the North-East for a long time, I know many the places that feature in the Raoul Moat Saga pretty well. For example, Moat’s attack on the police officer in the Denton area of Newcastle was just a matter of yards from where I used to get the bus to school when I was a kid, although the location has changed quite a lot since then; the incident happened at the junction of the A69 and the A1 western bypass (which hadn’t been built when I lived there). That spot is only a half a mile or so from where my mother lives now. I never imagined  such a familiar and friendly  place would appear on the BBC News as the scene of a shooting!

Rothbury too is a place I remember well. When I was very little we never travelled far for our holidays – we couldn’t afford to – but the upside of that was that I got to know some of the beautiful places on our doorstop. Few people know how beautiful Northumberland really is, in fact, even those that live there. Rothbury is a place that features in some of my earliest memories as a child, especially  the River Coquet with its stepping-stones. That’s exactly where the last acts of this tragedy were played out in the early hours of this morning.

The thing is that as I’ve got older I’ve, for some reason, started to regard such childhood memories as especially precious. I often think of certain places in Northumberland  – such as Bamburgh, Warkworth, and Seahouses  – because they remind me of a much simpler time, before the world got complicated. Rothbury used to be among them. Now I realise I’ll never be able to think of paddling in the river there without also thinking of Raoul Moat. The place has changed forever. The Rothbury of my mind is now dead.

When I got home from the pub last night, at about 8 o’clock, I happened to glance at the News and it was obvious something serious was happening and the police had almost certainly found their man. I sat glued to the TV screen as the press went into overdrive. The coverage varied from intrusive to comical to downright ghoulish as they made  a minimum of real news go a very long way diluted with speculation and innuendo. I had a look at Twitter too, but there the feeding frenzy was even worse and the pondlife that contributed to it even more loathsome. Things like this bring out the worst in some people, and the worst of the worst is often to be found on the internet.

I felt guilty watching the live TV coverage of the standoff, as I found much of it distasteful but, all the same, I couldn’t stop. Why? I don’t know. All I can say I was gripped in much the same way as I was on 9/11. I watched the footage of the Twin Towers burning and collapsing over and over again, mesmerised, appalled, unable to comprehend what was happening. But also, I have to admit, somehow excited by it. Does everyone have such a dark side to their fascinations?

I went to bed around 1am, with the standoff continuing but didn’t sleep very well because I was a bit rattled by the events of the evening and conflicting emotions about what I’d been watching. I had little doubt that it would end sometime during the night. Indeed, from the moment Raoul Moat started his trail of violence last week only one outcome seemed likely: that he would eventually take his own life. So it turned out. Of course I hoped that he might surrender himself – so, I’m sure, did the Police – but that always seemed very improbable. I don’t think he was capable of listening to reason. The only question was whether he would kill anyone else before turning his gun on himself.

 There won’t be much sympathy for Moat. I’ve already heard the opinion expressed that his suicide has saved the taxpayer from having to keep him in jail for the rest of his life.  The Police will be happy that Moat was stopped without committing further acts of violence. There will be questions asked, though,  about how he managed to live in such close proximity to so many police officers yet evade detection for such a long time, despite leaving numerous clues (such as his mobile phones and camping gear). It appears that Moat broke into at least one house in Rothbury while he was at large and may even have walked down the main street on Thursday night. Still, Moat had specifically threatened to kill police officers, so I can certainly understand the extreme caution with which they carried out their investigation. In the end, no members of the public or police officers were injured.

But it’s the townsfolk of Rothbury that I have the most sympathy for. It must have been terrible to have this Bogeyman lurking about the town, to see armed police invading the place, and to have the press poking their noses in during a time of obvious fear and distress. No doubt it won’t be long before a macabre tourist trade develops. I hope the town can return to peaceful normality soon, but I don’t think it will be that easy.

I mentioned before that I went to the pub yesterday evening. A Friday trip to The Poet’s Corner is a fairly regular fixture in my limited social calendar. The subject of Raoul Moat came up, jokily, during the conversation. We didn’t know at the time what was about to happen in Rothbury. An American visitor expressed astonishment that the press were making such a fuss about a lone gunman, who’d only committed one murder anyway, and incredulity when he was told that most British police don’t carry firearms. 

Those comments reveal a positive side of Raoul Moat story. The hysterical media reaction only occurred because such episodes are thankfully still very rare in Britain, due at least in part to severe legal restrictions on the availability of firearms. The very fact that people did get so gripped by this tragedy means that we’re not as desensitized to gun-related violence as many across the Pond.

As a postscript let me add this picture of a prominent yet macabre local landmark near Rothbury, Winter’s Gibbet, which serves as a reminder of a time when dubious executions were much more commonplace than they are now. To make it even more bizarre, we often had picnics underneath the Gibbet when I was a kid. Don’t ask me why.

23 Responses to “Death in Rothbury”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    “There won’t be much sympathy for Moat. I’ve already heard the opinion expressed that his suicide has saved the taxpayer from having to keep him in jail for the rest of his life.”

    These aren’t necessarily incompatible. I have a great deal of sympathy for Moat, but at the same time I am glad he is dead, because I believe in the the death penalty for murder specifically. (There is also a debate to be had about jail itself, although that’s off-topic.)

    “Things like this bring out the worst in some people, and the worst of the worst is often to be found only on the internet.”

    That is because people can hide behind anonymity on the internet. not many people would be willing to put their names to those comments. However I am all for internet anonymity because our libel laws are crap and because the deeper problem is not the expression of hatred, but hatred itself.

    “I watched the footage of the Twin Towers burning and collapsing over and over again, mesmerised, appalled, unable to comprehend what was happening. But also, I have to admit, somehow excited by it. Does everyone have such a dark side to their fascinations?”

    I’m not sure about the comparison. I personally would not have watched a Raoul Moat live feed (even if it had contained continuous action), whereas you knew when you were watching 9/11 that you were watching history in real time, and that is something.

    Anton

  2. telescoper Says:

    I admit I should have known better than to follow #moat on Twitter. When you turn over a stone you shouldn’t be surprised to see nasty things crawling around.

  3. I find myself trying to imagine what it would feel like, having your good memories tainted by such a thing.

    Maybe we, in the US, are acclimated to violence. In fact, this acclimatization may even be necessary if you want to have a “war state”.

    Killers can even become romanticized legends. Usually this has to do with the “freedom” of killing – the wild, free spirit it takes, to fly beyond the oppression of government, or people who would try to control or injure you.

    This, versus the “sanctity” of a location, unspoiled by bloodshed. But is it? Or was it ever?

    Oh, I’m no help at all, I think.

    The death penalty is irreconcilably problematic logistically, not even going into the ethics, which are only supportable using the most unenlightened arguments.

  4. telescoper Says:

    Mark

    I don’t support the death penalty. Murder is a crime, so murdering a murderer is a crime too. It would be different if the police are forced to shoot someone in order to prevent further killing.

    Add to that the many high-profile miscarriages of justice that would have led to the execution of innocent people if we had the death penalty.

    I don’t think the death penalty works as a deterrent, either. It certainly wouldn’t have done so in the case of Raoul Moat.

    Peter

  5. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’d say the main requirements for a war state are a high-capabilty military, a perceived cause and ambitious politicians. Most people simply want to be left alone to live their lives in peace (and be confident that property and other contract law is enforced impartially).

    It’s worth remembering who the US gun laws were designed to help people protect themselves against. I also read a book by a former member of the Metropolitan police’s firearms squad, and he believed that it was morally indefensible for the police to be armed if the public were not.

    Yours unenlightenedly,
    Anton

  6. The story also resonated with me somewhat since I come that part of the world.

    Although there are undoubtedly a number of factors which contributed to the murders I do wonder if “roid rage” had anything to do with it. I read in a few sources that he would take steroids as part of his training regime.

    • telescoper Says:

      Dave: I heard rumours about his steroid use. That may have been a factor, but it’s his own fault for using them.

      Smilingcynic: You’ll forgive me for not celebrating, although I’m glad it was only Moat who died in Rothbury. He has a family too. Imagine the effect this has had on them.

  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    “Murder is a crime, so murdering a murderer is a crime too.”

    An example of murder of a murderer was Jack Ruby murdering Lee Harvey Oswald (who surely shot JFK). Murder is one category of the killing of a human being; execution is another. Should we have prosecuted the last public hangman after his job had been abolished?

  8. What a fantastic, cheap and effective conclusion to that wicked bastard’s life. A last, something good has happened.

  9. Tom Shanks Says:

    Dont think it has been the greatest night for the Northumbrian police. It’s not clear yet but they seem to have used tasers shortly before the suicide. Paul (Gazza) Gascoigne added a surreal aspect with an offer to intervene – he had brought to Rothbury 2 fishing rods, a piece of chicken, a dressing gown and a can of lager to encourage his friend “Moaty” to give up! Given that it was Gazza, he also had had a few too many beers and the police didnt let him anywhere near. But I wouldnt be surprised if it will turn out that the drunken Gazza more had the idea as to how to deal with the situation than the police!

    The link to Gazza’s radio interview is here…

    Dont know whether to laugh or cry!

  10. telescoper Says:

    Tom,

    It’s now confirmed by the Police that they used tasers on Moat

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/10585521.stm

    although it remains to be seen what exactly happened in the time leading to his death.

    The link above confirms what I suspected which is that this all happened right at the spot where I played in the river as a child. Creepy.

    Peter

  11. telescoper Says:

    Anton,

    I’m not a Christian, but the phrase “Thou Shalt not Kill” appears to me to be definitive…

    ..I’ll grant that one can kill another with a clear conscience in order to prevent further deaths, but if a murderer is in custody then execution seems to me to be unjustified.

    Peter

  12. Tom Shanks Says:

    There are a lot of paradoxical aspects to this event. It was striking how many of Moat’s neighbours and acquaintances piped up to say that he had a good side to him. The police also showed commendable bravery in dealing with a difficult situation. Am also sure that Moat’s circumstances leading up to all of this will turn out to be more complex than the headlines so far imply.

    In terms of Gazza’s and other, even if somewhat misplaced, reactions, I am sure it also says something about the warmth of the Geordie nation! There are certainly some aspects of this incident, including Gazza’s involvement, that could happen nowhere other than Newcastle!

  13. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: “Thou shalt not kill” is a King James mistranslation of the Hebrew, which is correctly rendered “Thou shalt not murder”. There are two words in the Hebrew as well as in English (and most other languages). Otherwise God would have been contradicting himself when he commanded capital punishment for certain crimes (including murder) in ancient Israel’s law.

    Anton

    PS However misguided and publicity-seeking Gazza might be, his offer proves one thing: he is brave.

  14. telescoper Says:

    Tom,

    Call me a sentimental fool, but I cling to the belief that there is good in all people, however deep they manage to hide it. The only good thing that could have come out of this tragedy was that, eventually, Moat would have seen the error of his ways which is why I am saddened by his death. Now he’ll always be a villain.

    I’m sure Gazza meant well by what he did. He’s gone off the rails in recent years, but there’s a lot of good in him too.

    Peter

  15. I really liked “should we have executed the last public hangman?”.

    Consider the doctor, with their sacred “do no harm” oath, who injects the lethal dose of chemicals into the prisoner. Consider the psychologist who participates in maximizing the effectiveness of human torture.

    Does the fact these people can often say “I was just doing my job” absolve them from all ethical and moral considerations or consequences for their individual actions?

    Taking someone’s life is a sanction with absolute finality. There are few situations that are knowable fully enough to warrant such absolute and irrevocable sanctions. Empowering the mechanism of The State with the power to execute its own citizenry should be frightening to anyone.

    The money issues, be damned.

  16. Anton Garrett Says:

    The police would be aware that tasering somebody who has his finger on a trigger is a bad idea. Tasering somebody who temporarily doesn’t is obviously a good idea. What is yet to emerge is why they tasered him yet he still shot himself, as we now know happened.

    They gave him food and drink while negotiating. Perhaps that is not a bad idea, but are they not allowed to lace it with sleep-inducing chemicals?

    Anton

    PS The origin of the word “taser” is worth looking up on Wikipedia.

  17. This event has been going through my mind a little more than I’d expect.

    To me the events of the last week show the failure of society for this man. If what’s been reported so far is to be believed, his last words were apparently “I have no dad, no one cares about me”. It seems that since he never knew his father and his mother disowned him at a young age, he was never taught how to behave as a man. It seems that his perceived male character has been built upon a macho image, which could be linked to his use of steroids. The fact that he was just released after being convicted of assault and worked as a bouncer may further reinforce his desire to be an alpha male of a kind incompatible with the wider community.

    The warning from the prison service to the police about Moat’s potential to instantly reoffend shows a failure in the system between enforcing the law and rehabilitation. The following repeated failures of Northumbria police are awful. It appears that Moat broke into a house to squat of which the police later searched. Moat then went back to the property with the police failing to secure the property!

    In the end I believe Moat won, he took his own life and that was his decision. He never lived to have decisions made by peers on his behalf to sentence him to a suitable punishment/rehabilitation. I’m in some way happy that Moat did win, or get the upper hand. Although the wounding and killing of 3 people is entirely his responsibility, I can’t see how this could be entirely his fault. I would blame his parents, the greater community and the legal system for creating his character. Pictures of a young Raoul and his brother have been flashed in the media – it’s impossible to believe that his ability to kill was inherent from birth. His ability to kill has been bourn out of anger of people failing him.

    His possible intentions for shooting his ex-girfriend and her partner may be Moat’s perception that although his father was non-existent, his role as a father for three children was being denied by his ex-girlfriend and he wasn’t aware of how or capable of stopping this. Whereas his his own fathers absence was intentional, his wasn’t, however other factors led to his absence.

    His threat to the wider public was based upon his anger of ‘inaccuracies’ being reported in the media about himself. As has been mentioned, people were more or less able to watch his death live with detached emotion – just another story following a script. This wasn’t. Whilst TV crews were busy shoving their cameras in the face of distressed members of the community, probably in the aim of having a one up on another TV channel, this wasn’t news. You could say that this really is an amalgamation of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World.

    On the side of 1984 we saw the stand-off between Moat and the police live, as well as the upset people caught up in the whole thing. Moat’s life – his criminal record, his ex-partners, his childhood, his employment history all reported in the news. So much information, you begin to wonder that if we know so much information about this person already why did we do nothing to stop it? The final hours of this man’s life were live for all to see, his details printed all over the internet, his life discussed – almost nothing of his life was now personal or private.

    On the side of Brave New World, the role of 24 hour news channels, continuous coverage of the same repeated footage and pictures lead to a point where people can no longer prioritise what’s important. To most people, the important thing was the broadcasting of what people perceived to be another action scene from TV or film. Moat’s entire life was known and his actions witnessed out of context that he was an angry human who was not taught how to behave.

    The last hours of Raoul Moat were not lived as a person but merely a character for a news frenzy. What’s overlooked is the actual effect of this whole saga upon Moat and his victims. What do people really think? Another bad man is dead? Some macho character fooled the police for so long? Or maybe that it’s a sad day for many, in particular four people?

    A previous friend of Moat had said that Rothbury was his most favourite place; a place he visited during his childhood. This may show acknowledgement of Moat of his own deviation from simpler times, an acceptance of regret and remorse of the course of his life. It seems he chose to die in a place that probably gave him many happy memories during his earlier innocent years.

    *With regard to his use of steroids, the media has always never understood this topic. Although not a user myself, I will defend the substance as not being as dangerous as perceived. The reported “‘roid rage” has absolutely no scientific evidence. Anabolic steroids are simply a high concentration of an already present hormone in the human body – the male hormone responsible for masculine features such as muscular development, deepness in voice and mind. It will cause an increase in aggression but this does not equate with desire to kill. Alcohol increases aggression, however any intent to harm or kill is an underlying problem. Steroid or alcohol simply accentuate already inherent feelings and intentions, not create ones from anew.

  18. telescoper Says:

    Huw,

    The facts emerging about Moat’s last hours make his death all the more tragic although there’s still much we don’t know. I’m haunted by his last words and the image of a desperate man cornered like an animal. I don’t care what he did; no human being deserves to die like that.

    The media reporting of the standoff upset me at times because it seemed that the press were egging him on to kill himself, and the whole thing took on the flavour of a public execution (which is why I posted the picture of Winter’s Gibbett). At any rate the salacious coverage would certainly not have helped bring it to a safe conclusion.

    There are numerous questions still about precisely what happened that night. According to the BBC Website, the post mortem examination revealed no sign of the Tasers that were supposedly fired. Perhaps they missed? Did they attempt to rush him at the end? If so, why?

    Peter

  19. telescoper Says:

    PS. I don’t know anything about steroids but just because a substance occurs naturally in the human body doesn’t mean it can’t have bad effects in abormal concentrations. I don’t know if there’s any specific evidence, however. Perhaps the cause and effect are switched – people who take steroids might be predisposed to violence in the first place.

  20. I’m glad with the outcome of Moat killing himself. Not that I wished for him to be dead as a form of punishment, but that he had the final say and by that he won. The decision to kill himself was made by him, not by the police, not by the media, not by a jury, but by him. (Assuming tasering him did not cause him to kill himself involuntarily.) It’s his small victory on a very uneven playing field.

  21. […] find myself feeling much the same as I did in 2008 after a terrorist attack in Mumbai and in 2010 when the murderer Raoul Moat met a violent end in Rothbury. As I get older memories of places I’ve visited are increasingly precious and it’s […]

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