Detectives investigating a triple shooting are facing accusations of not taking seriously the threat posed by a former nightclub bouncer after it emerged that they had been tipped off by prison officers that the suspected gunman Raoul Moat meant serious harm to his former girlfriend.
In a nervous day on Tyneside yesterday more than 100 armed officers drafted in from neighbouring forces joined the hunt for the missing 37-year-old bodybuilder. Children walked to school past policemen carrying machine guns while youngsters were kept inside and locals locked windows. Rumours swirled around the city as police launched a series of operations to track down the suspected gunman, who has already killed one person and left two seriously injured, including a uniformed police officer.
Northumbria Police voluntarily referred their handling of the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission over the prison warning which was issued the day before Moat is alleged to have begun his shooting spree. It also emerged that the former nightclub bouncer telephoned the emergency operator 12 minutes before allegedly shooting a policeman in the head and chest as he sat in his car in Newcastle city centre in the early hours of Sunday morning.
It is understood that police, social workers and the mother of two of his children were among those under police guard after the fugitive wrote a long letter detailing his grudges against them.
Police denied that the letter contained a "hit list" and played down suggestions that he had detailed those he sought on his Facebook page.
Moat was known to have been unhappy with the authorities over his prosecution for assaulting a child from a previous relationship. Moat was released early from Durham jail on Thursday after being given an 18-week sentence. He is believed to have spent two days looking for Samantha Stobbart, 22, who told him while he was still in prison that she had started a relationship with a police officer.
The condition of the trainee hairdresser, who is mother to Moat's third child, was improving after she was shot on Saturday through the window of a house in Birtley, Gateshead. Her new partner, the karate instructor Chris Brown, 29, was shot dead outside the front of the house.
Miss Stobbart issued a plea for her former partner to come forward. Reading a statement on her behalf, Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson, who is leading the hunt, told a news conference: "Please give yourself up. If you still love me and our baby you would not be doing this any more."
Det Ch Supt Adamson also revealed that he had received a letter from Moat in the previous 24 hours which detailed "a number of issues and grievances". He said: "Some are very private, others relate to how you feel that you've been treated by us." He added: "We want to understand your position and I want you to realise that you do have a future."
Police said Moat made a 999 call lasting six minutes shortly before the shooting of PC David Rathband, 42, who was stable but critical last night. The first call, which was made at 12.33am on Sunday came too late for police to process. A second call made 50 minutes after the attack on a busy roundabout, came 50 minutes afterwards and accused officers of failing to take him seriously. The suspect also used the social networking site Facebook to taunt police, writing: "Ha, Ha! You can come but you can't catch me!"
Kelly Stobbart, 27, who is the sister of Samantha Stobbart, said she doubted whether he would be taken alive. She said: "They are going to have to kill him to bring him down. When he gets his mind set on somebody he goes on the rampage."