Police in England were tonight facing an investigation into their handling of the manhunt for Raoul Moat as further details of the tense six-hour stand off with the gunman emerged.
Detectives had hoped to be able to take the former nightclub doorman into custody without any further bloodshed.
But those hopes were dashed in the early hours of today when Moat apparently shot himself after negotiators failed to secure a peaceful resolution.
Although the operation ensured no further police officers or members of the public were injured, the exact sequence of events leading up to Moat’s death remain unclear.
An eyewitness said police jumped on Moat before the gunshot rang out and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) today launched an investigation which will examine whether his death could have been avoided.
Part of that investigation will focus on when and why two Taser stun guns were discharged during the dramatic last stand.
The force’s handling of the case has been under the spotlight ever since the fatal shooting of Chris Brown and the woundings of Moat’s ex-girlfriend Sam Stobbart and Pc David Rathband last weekend.
The IPCC is already investigating whether the police responded adequately to a warning from Durham Prison that Moat might intend to cause serious harm to Miss Stobbart.
Moat, 37, was freed from the prison on July 1, after serving a jail term for assault and the prison issued the warning the following day.
Northumbria Police Temporary Chief Constable Sue Sim stressed that the warning did not suggest Moat intended to shoot or kill Miss Stobbart, but questions were asked about whether the force should have done more to protect her, which may also have prevented Mr Brown’s tragic death.
Apprehending Moat sooner could also have prevented the shooting of Pc Rathband. He was apparently targeted because Moat had a grudge against the police, which was exacerbated when frightened Miss Stobbart falsely told him that her new boyfriend was a police officer.
Police also faced criticism when it emerged that officers were aware that Moat had visited the home of his friend Andy Mcallister on Saturday night.
But they were not at the Newcastle address when Moat returned in the early hours of Monday.
It was during the second visit that he delivered a “murder statement” in which he declared war on the police.
Mr Mcallister told The Sun that it took officers “more than an hour” to arrive after he dialled 999.
“They knew he’d been to my house once – I thought they would have been watching,” he said.
It was also questioned why it was not until Monday night that police released details of the black Lexus saloon car which Moat had been using.
Residents of Rothbury said the vehicle had been parked in a car park beside the River Coquet for at least 10 hours before they knew police were looking for it.
Until police surrounded Moat last night, questions were also being asked about why it was taking so long for him to be found.
Inspector Ken Crossley, an experienced search adviser with Northumbria Police, said the dozens of armed officers scouring 100 square kilometres around the village were facing an “unprecedented” challenge in terrain which includes dense woodland, hills, streams and caves.
Resources were said to be adequate for the hunt which involved police officers from 15 forces, Scotland Yard sharpshooters, armoured 4x4 cars and an RAF Tornado.
Yet many of the clues which police found seemed to have been left behind deliberately – three mobile phones, the car, the voice recorder and camping equipment.
It was suggested today that Moat may have been hiding in a network of underground storm drains.
Doubts about the police handling of the difficult case were also raised when the press were allowed into a briefing for officers yesterday and a note to police was read out which described Moat as a “nutter”.
While the press observed a news blackout which banned the reporting of any personal information which it was feared would further enrage Moat, neighbourhood inspector Sue Peart read out the card from local children on live television, as Temporary Chief Constable Sue Sim sat beside her.
Northumbria Police later apologised.
Finding Moat on the riverbank close to the centre of the village, following several reports that he had seen seen nearby, may have also left Ms Sim regretting a comment she made to a packed public meeting in Rothbury on Thursday.
She told anxious residents: “I’m not saying he is going to be walking down the street with a gun.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson, who led the investigation, tried to respond to some of the criticism during a press conference today.
He read a pre-prepared statement which described the past week as “challenging to say the least”.
“We were faced with a series of extraordinary events, which have tested the resolve and professionalism of all involved,” he said.
“Since the arrests on Tuesday July 6, the information, intelligence and advice available to me, always led me to believe that Moat was in and around the Rothbury area, constantly on the move.
“My enquiries were frustrated by a number of significant challenges including, a potential hostage situation and apparent support and assistance for Moat, from third parties.
“I have had to assess the impact, relevance and potential risk of all information available to me and carefully consider what I could release and when.”