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Police search hills for crazed gunman Moat

A major manhunt for fugitive gunman Raoul Moat was today focusing on the wooded hills and open moorland surrounding a pretty village today.

Armed officers shut down Rothbury, Northumberland, guarded schools with machine guns and scoured hundreds of acres of fields yesterday for the deranged gunman who has declared war on police.

The search for the Newcastle-based bouncer, suspected of blasting his ex-lover Samantha Stobbart and killing her new boyfriend Chris Brown on Saturday, then badly injuring Pc David Rathband less than 24 hours later, moved away from Tyneside, after a black Lexus he had been using was spotted by the River Coquet in a small industrial complex.

In an intriguing twist, two men said to be held hostage by Moat were located near the village and arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder.

Detectives will continue to question the pair, hoping to glean more information about the elusive self-confessed "killer and a maniac".

Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Jim Campbell said: "We are committed to doing all we can to find this man which means the intensive and systematic searches are continuing throughout the night."

A former girlfriend said she believed Moat's love of the Rothbury countryside, developed when they were going out together more than a decade ago, could be why he apparently chose to leave the city and hide out in the wild.

Waitress Yvette Foreman, 35, said: "We'd go camping and fishing here loads when we were younger, almost every weekend, and he knows the woods and hills like the back of his hand.

"There's so much woodland and so many little nooks and crags out there I think he could hide out for days."

She recalled: "He was a lovely lad back then. He had long blond hair in a ponytail, which he wore plaited with loads of little coloured beads.

"He'd come up to stay from Newcastle for the weekend and we'd go off to the woods.

"He was daft as a brush, a real practical joker. He once soaked my dad with water."

But he did reveal his dark side, once writing to her a vicious fantasy in which he described plans to batter a rival with a baseball bat.

She recalled: "He was saying how he and his mates were going to take a bat to somebody because they'd fallen out with somebody.

"I never really paid it any attention until now."

Last night, in scenes expected to be repeated until he is captured, armed police surrounded an empty stone-built house on the B6344 three miles west of Rothbury. Officers in helmets pointed guns at the house, using their car doors as shields, while others flashed lights into the darkened property. After around an hour, shortly before midnight, they moved off without apprehending anyone.

Northumbria Police revealed the hardman, suspected to be a steroid abuser, has been arrested 12 times and charged with seven separate offences.

But his only conviction came earlier this year for assaulting a child.

He was jailed for 18 weeks and was released on Thursday.

He blames police for taking away his freedom, his children and his girlfriend.

In his chilling note, he warned: "The public need not fear me but the police should as I won't stop till I'm dead."

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Adamson still appealed for him to give himself up without further bloodshed.

"Do not leave your children with distressing memories of their father. You still have a future," he said.

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