Monday, July 12, 2010

A very 'public execution'

The eleventh-hour arrival of former England footballer Paul Gascoigne at the scene of the manhunt in Rothbury over the weekend certainly was bizarre. But unfortunately Gazza’s efforts at mediating a non-fatal outcome were unsuccessful. Like Raoul Moat’s brother and uncle, the footballer was turned away by the police.

Many who have followed the lurid coverage no doubt believe that a brutal man who killed his ex-girlfriend’s partner got his just deserts when he died on Sunday morning in what his brother likened to a “public execution”. But there are those who feel otherwise.

As Moat managed to outwit police for a week, Facebook sites supported by thousands of people sprang up in his support. Flowers have been left and a shrine set up outside his home by those who feel they were on his side against a police force which has a tense relationship with many Northumbrians.

One person wrote: “How many people cussing him on here would be able to keep thousands of armed police at bay for 8 days???? I think all of them would meekly and passively surrender. That's why he's an inspiration ... The French resistance would have loved him in 1940, they might not have surrendered so quick if they had more of him ..."

The £4 million operation, the biggest and most expensive in recent British history, included snipers armed with a variety of assault rifles, pistols, carbines and sniper rifles plus 50,000-volt electric Taser stun guns and an RAF Tornado aircraft with heat imaging. But despite vast resources, advanced technologies and huge firepower, the entire handling of the situation leaves many questions unanswered.

Northumbria police did not act on warnings from Durham prison that he intended to harm his former partner. Neither were at least eight sightings and incidents acted upon swiftly. But the most shocking aspects of the case were raised by Moat’s close relatives.

His brother Angus said he felt the round-the-clock media coverage seemed like “they’re working up to what could be a public execution in modern Britain of my little brother … I think I’m probably the only person who’s ever watched his brother die on national television in the UK, which is obviously horrific.”

Angus Moat had told police he was “willing to walk into the cordon with no flak jacket and try to talk to Raoul to calm him down”, but that his offer, like that of his uncle Charles Alexander, was rejected out of hand. He said: “If the police are so keen to get this defused and they want to talk him down and negotiate and his family are figuring so prominently in what he is saying, then why didn't they go for that option?” Good question.

They and others have raised the possibility that the two Taser shots fired by the police (who initially only admitted to one shot), could well have caused Moat to pull the trigger on the shotgun he had pointed at himself. Northumbrian police certainly love their Tasers. In the five years to April 2009 they used them more times against a population of 1.7 million than the Metropolitan Police did in area covering 7.4 million people.

Behind the ugly scenes in Rothbury are deep social tensions and massive deprivation. Northumbria has never recovered from the job losses and devastation of communities caused by the pit closures during the late 1980s and 1990s. Shocking as it may seem, elevating a man who has gone out of control to the status of a hero can be read as an attempt by those who feel abandoned by society to give themselves an identity and a status.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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