Moat's last stand: Was he hiding in this drain?

Everyone in Rothbury has heard of The Coplish, the half-mile tunnel that begins at the bottom of Blaeberry Hill and runs beneath the village, passing the hardware shop, the pub on the corner and crossing under the High Street, reaching an end at the River Coquet.

Locals speak fondly of how this 19th Century flood drain featured in their childhood games of hide and seek. They suggest that Raoul Moat would have played in it, too, when, in his early teens, he often visited Rothbury, whose surrounding countryside he adored.

Hiding place: A surface water storm drain believed to be the one which Moat concealed himself in

Hiding place: A surface water storm drain believed to be the one which Moat concealed himself in

It was to The Coplish that the fugitive gunman returned last week. It’s thought he used it as a retreat in an altogether different game of hide and seek with police, a game that frequently bordered on the farcical, but one that ended in the early hours of yesterday in his final stand and violent death near to the tunnel’s entrance.

‘Moat was, quite literally, underneath the feet of police as they marched up and down the High Street,’ said 84-year-old local Ebbe Cummings. ‘It is remarkable, really, isn’t it?’

Especially remarkable considering that for a week he was sought by hundreds of officers from 15 forces, many of them specialist marksmen and sniffer-dog handlers working around the clock. The final bill for the operation is expected to run into millions.

But the people of Rothbury are now asking this simple question: Was the village searched thoroughly enough?

It is thought that police did search the tunnel on Thursday but Moat was elsewhere at the time.

 'Moat was quite literally under the police's feet'

As one resident put it, he was ‘like a jack-in-the-box, popping up all over the place’. Bob Herdman, 75, told how Moat stole cucumbers and peppers from his greenhouse. ‘I saw him at just after midnight on Thursday in the garden. I was just going to bed and looked out of the landing window.

‘I saw somebody running down the path and saw the greenhouse door was open. I rang the police and all of a sudden there were about ten patrol cars around it.’

Moat apparently also did what police chief Sue Sim assured locals he would never do – walk brazenly down the High Street. On one occasion, 10.45pm on Thursday,  he was seen by three people: two journalists and a local, all convinced that the man walking purposefully in a baseball cap and dark clothes was Britain’s most wanted man.

The resident told a policeman, who said: ‘Don’t worry, we check out all sightings.’ But Moat disappeared before he could be apprehended.

Before the stand-off began on Friday, Moat even flagged down a van on the High Street asking for a lift.

‘We didn’t recognise him,’ said the driver. ‘But in any case, there wasn’t room and we said, “Sorry, mate”.

Raoul Moat camping equipment

Sleeping rough: The camping equipment believed to have been used by Raoul Moat while in Rothbury

‘But as we pulled away, he kicked the side of the van twice, so we stopped and got out – but he ran away. It was only later that we realised it was Moat.’

Not long after this, he was seen on the riverbank. Pam Campbell, 50, an NHS manager from Staffordshire, said: ‘I was walking the dog at around 7.15pm and there was a guy by the bushes. We were face to face. I gave him a friendly nod but he did not respond.’

Margaret Blanshard, a retired human resources manager from Rothbury, also saw Moat around this time.

She said: ‘There was a man stood with his back to us by the river. I glanced at the back of his head and caught sight of his mohican underneath his baseball cap. I just thought: That’s got to be him.’

Moments later, Ken Branson, a former leader of Hull City Council, and his partner walked straight past him. ‘We turned away when my partner realised it might be him and about six seconds after that, two police vehicles came on to the scene,’ he said.

What happened next will be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. ‘We will be examining whether correct procedures were followed by Northumbria Police and the detail of how this incident came to a conclusion,’ said IPCC commissioner Nicholas Long.

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