FUGITIVE gunman Raoul Moat was believed to be hiding out in remote countryside last night awaiting his final stand with armed police.
Officers and sniffer dogs scoured fields, woods and outhouses for the former nightclub bouncer near where he abandoned his car in Rothbury, Northumberland.
An ex-girlfriend revealed that he knew the rugged landscape around the village “like the back of his hand” and said he could live rough there for days.
Waitress Yvette Foreman, 35, said: “People are blaming me for Raoul coming up here. I’m terrified. I told police as soon as I heard he was on the loose he’d be heading for here and they did nothing.”
Northumbria Police set up a two-mile exclusion zone around Rothbury and ordered children to be kept in school as they announced the net was closing in on the alleged killer.
Moat, 37, used a rambling letter to the force to declare war on the police, whom he blames for taking away his children, freedom and former girlfriend.
In a chilling warning, he wrote: “The public need not fear me but the police should as I won’t stop ’til I’m dead.”
The focus of the massive manhunt dramatically shifted to Rothbury after Moat’s black Lexus saloon was found parked in an industrial estate beside the River Coquet.
Residents alerted officers after detectives made an appeal for information about the vehicle late last night, but said the car was there all day yesterday.
Police last night imposed a media blackout on reporting that the gunman was holding two men hostage, but it was lifted this morning when they were found near Rothbury.
In an intriguing twist, the pair were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder and taken into custody.
Moat boasted of kidnapping the two men from the Birtley area in a series of taunts through phonecalls and in his 49-page hand- written letter to police.
Speaking at a press conference, detective chief superintendent Neil Adamson, who is leading the manhunt, appealed once again to the gunman to give himself up.
He said: “Mr Moat, I have a further message for you. I have made a number of requests to you to contact police and hand yourself in. That opportunity still exists.
“Please remember what I have said to you before. Do not leave your children with distressing memories of their father. You still have a future. Give yourself up now.”
Moat became Britain’s most wanted man after allegedly shooting his ex-partner and killing her new lover in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The steroid-abusing father -of-three is accused of targeting Samantha Stobbart, 22, just hours after he was released from Durham Prison where he served a short sentence for assault.
Stobbart was left in a critical condition and her new boyfriend, karate instructor Chris Brown, 29, was killed in the shooting in Gateshead. Almost 24 hours later, married father-of-two PC David Rathband, 42, was shot in his patrol car at a roundabout in East Denton, Newcastle.
It emerged yesterday that Moat has been arrested 12 times and charged with seven offences. Clues about the gunman’s movements around Rothbury emerged throughout the day.
A local farmer alerted police to a makeshift campsite apparently used by the gunman after she saw suspicious smoke while checking her animals. She also noticed that one of the boards blocking up a derelict farmhouse known as Pike House had been pulled off.
Police searched an area of dense foliage backing on to Rothbury’s Dr Thomlinson Middle School, whose pupils and staff were told to remain inside the building.
Restrictions on moving around the village were lifted last night and parents were allowed to collect their children, but armed officers remained on patrol.
Northumbria Police temporary chief constable Sue Sim said people should not travel to Rothbury and residents should stay indoors: “Can I stress to the public that Moat is still at large and we need to locate him.”
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