A tense, six-hour standoff between armed police and Raoul Moat, Britain's most wanted man, ended early this morning when the fugitive shot himself.
At 1.10am a single gunshot was heard at the scene of the standoff and police were reported to have surrounded Moat and jumped on him. In a statement, the police said "no shots were fired by police officers" and it "appears the suspect shot himself".
An ambulance reportedly sped from the scene, taking the former nightclub bouncer, 37, to a Newcastle hospital. Sources said Moat was pronounced dead on arrival.
Having evaded capture for a week, Moat had been surrounded in the Northumberland village of Rothbury for six hours as armed snipers trained their guns on him while he pointed a shotgun at his neck.
Moat was wanted over the shooting of his ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart, and the fatal shooting of her partner, Chris Brown, last Saturday, and the shooting of PC David Rathband on Sunday.
Just after 7pm yesterday Moat made a break from his hiding place near Cragside, around 300 metres from Rothbury. One witness said they saw him being chased by armed officers on the eastern edge of the village.
Another said they saw Moat being pursued across the front lawn of their home in the riverbank area of Rothbury at around 7.10pm, while other accounts described him walking along the bank of the river Coquet when two police officers approached him.
Within moments Moat was said to have gone down flat on his stomach and put a sawn-off shotgun to his neck, his finger apparently on the trigger. In seconds he was surrounded by 10 marksmen.
Trained police negotiators tried to talk with Moat, who was in a highly agitated state, shouting at officers who ordered him to lie on the ground.
Marksmen trained their guns and taser guns on him, while snipers lay on the banks of the river and behind an armoured police vehicle. An RAF Tornado plane with infra-red equipment roared overhead.
As daylight faded, police sent in food and water to try to help develop a rapport and trust. It was reported that Moat's friend Tony Laidler had arrived to try to assist with negotiations.
As torrential rain poured on the scene, the deadlock was broken at just after 1am when a single shot was heard, followed by the sound of shouting.
A police spokesman said: "We can confirm that a shot has been fired. It's believed that the suspect has a gunshot wound. No officers have been injured. The circumstances have yet to be established."
The temporary chief constable of Northumbria police, Sue Sim, said: "While the incident has been brought to a close we must be mindful of the impact it has had on many lives. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those affected.
"I'd like to thank the public, particularly the community of Rothbury, for their continued help throughout the inquiry. This has been a difficult time for them and their support has been invaluable."
The force also confirmed that the incident had been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) because officers had had contact with Moat prior to his death.
The IPCC commissioner, Nicholas Long, said: "Early indications show that gunshots were not fired by police officers and this will of course form part of the IPCC independent investigation. It is also understood that a police officer did discharge a Taser and our investigation will also look at this."
Sim later confirmed that a taser had been fired, "however, this did not prevent his death".
The independent police watchdog is already investigating whether Northumbria police took adequate action after they received a warning from Durham prison after Moat's release that he might intend to cause serious harm to Stobbart.
Moat had remained at large for a week, allegedly aided by friends and associates. Six people have been arrested in connection with the investigation so far and two have already appeared before magistrates charged with conspiracy to commit murder and possession of a firearm.
Hundreds of officers were involved in the search, with 14 additional forces brought in, including 40 officers from the Metropolitan police's C019 sniper unit and 20 armoured police cars shipped in from Northern Ireland.
Throughout the inquiry, Northumbria police remained convinced Moat was in the area, despite cynicism as the search went on. Local sources believe Moat may have been sleeping rough in a storm drain that runs beneath the town.
He was wearing a blue-grey hooded top, baseball cap, dark jeans and white trainers. Earlier yesterday police were investigating claims that Moat had been spotted walking down the high street in Rothbury on Thursday at 11.45pm.
The sighting came just three hours after Northumbria's temporary chief constable, Sue Sim, told hundreds of worried villagers at a public meeting: "I'm not saying he's going to be walking down the road with a gun."
Yesterday evening there was a sense of panic as marksmen flooded into the village, which was cordoned off. Residents were told by officers to "go home and lock the door".
Peter Abiston was watching Moat throughout: "There are about 20 armed officers lying down pointing weapons at him. He looks very calm. It looks as though the police clearly have it under control."
Chris Robertson said he thought he had seen Moat holding a gun to his neck. "There was a man down by the river with what appeared to be a sawn-off shotgun pointing to his own neck. He was about 150 yards away. I wasn't sure it was Moat. Then the police came and pointed their rifles at him."
Retired taxi driver Dave Murray, 67, said Moat appeared to have been chased through the village and was heading east before being cornered at the primary school tennis courts and bowling green.
Armed police have been carrying out search operations in the town since Tuesday, but it is extraordinary that Moat was able to remain at large for so long. Earlier yesterday, there was a collision involving two police cars as they rushed to the area. It is not clear if anyone was injured.
In a surreal development, the former England and Newscastle footballer Paul Gascoigne turned up at the police cordon in an intoxicated state claiming to be a friend of Moat, and offering to give the fugitive assistance.