The risk from the fugitive gunman Raoul Moat has spread to the general public, police warned yesterday, as the massive operation to capture him from Northumberland moorland moved into its sixth day.
People living in and around the small town of Rothbury, which has been at the centre of the investigation, were warned not to take risks.
They were advised to accompany their children to school and not venture out on to the hills after an escalation in the threat assessment posed by the former bouncer, who is alleged to have seriously injured his former girlfriend, killed her partner and shot a police officer in the head and chest.
Senior detectives believe Moat has been relying on a network of accomplices to help him evade capture.
Yesterday two men, Karl Ness (26) and Qhuram Awan (23), appeared in court in Newcastle charged with conspiracy to murder in relation to the triple shooting which took place on Tyneside last weekend.
Two other men are also being questioned by police on suspicion of assisting Moat, who is the subject of a £10,000 reward.
All four were arrested in Rothbury where hundreds of residents crowded into a hall last night to air their concerns with police and be reassured that everything was being done to keep them safe.
The 37-year-old bodybuilder is believed to be armed with one or two shotguns and to have access to ammunition.
Police now have at least 160 armed officers at their disposal. But, after days of insisting the main danger was to police officers, detectives said yesterday it had now emerged that Moat posed a “wider threat” to the public.
Forensic psychologists are examining letters written by the gunman to determine who is most at risk.
Throughout the day heavily armed officers continued to patrol Rothbury while helicopters buzzed the air. Many hours were spent searching a farm building six miles west of the town but, despite the huge police effort from up to 10 forces, Moat remained at large.
Outside interest in the case continued to grow. With saturation coverage on radio and television there are now more than 20 Facebook sites dedicated to the hunt and “Raoul Moat” was yesterday the No 1 trending topic on Twitter.
Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson, who is leading the inquiry, said the evidence still suggested Moat was in the hills and woods outside Rothbury.
He warned that the public would have to be patient to allow officers to search the multiple hiding places afforded by the wild terrain on the edge of Northumberland National Park.
Mr Adamson said he was keeping all options open and urged one caller who had contacted the force with information about a vehicle to get back in touch.
“There are several lines of inquiry in relation to how and if he is communicating with other people. Numerous new lines of inquiry have come to light in the past 24 hours, all of which are being progressed at a pace,” he said.
“I would once again like to express our desire to resolve this situation safely, and that the force is making every effort to do so.”
Moat's uncle, Charlie Alexander (72), told police he would offer to lead his nephew to safety. “If he would get in touch I would be prepared to meet him,” he said.
Darren Rathband, brother of PC David Rathband who was shot and seriously injured as he sat in his patrol car in the early hours of Sunday, said his brother wanted to thank Northumbria officers “and all the other officers from across the country who've come up here to resolve this incident”.
Police also released CCTV images of Moat captured at a branch of B&Q in Newcastle on Friday, the day after his release from prison and just hours before he went on the rampage.