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First blood in Rothbury

world Updated: Jul 13, 2010 00:02 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times
World Cup semis

“I missed it,” said the stranger at the bar staring despondently into a pint of lager.

“I rushed back home, had a quick shower, ran into the living room and switched on the telly — missed it.”

What? I asked, the World Cup semis? No, replied the young man. He had missed the moment when a runaway killer put the gun to his head and shot himself after giving what looked like half the British police force the runaround for seven days.

You couldn’t make it up.

The live television coverage of Raul Moat’s escape through woods and meadows had the nation gripped — I had no idea people were rushing back from work to watch.

It seemed as if England had found its very own Rambo, the fictional Hollywood character who single-handedly takes on the US army. No longer was the anti-hero an American preserve: now wounded, vengeful cop-killers were English too.

But there was nothing heroic about Moat, a bodybuilder who upon being released from jail went on a shooting spree. First he killed his ex-lover’s boyfriend, then he shot and wounded her. The next day he shot and wounded a policeman.

Through seven long days this massively-built former bouncer kept Britain glued to its TV sets with a series of messages (including a 49-page ‘note’ where he compared himself to Hulk, the comic book superhero). He portrayed himself as a victim of injustices.

Criminologists call this “neutralisation” — where the offender blames external factors.

Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo in the 80s Hollywood hit First Blood was a Vietnam war veteran — a decorated commando on the run from sadistic police. Rambo chooses a familiar terrain — a forested hilltop — to be his battleground and from there proceeds to destroy what looks like half the US army, before giving up.

Moat, a common criminal and a violent man, ran into dense woods and hills surrounding the small market town of Rothbury — a part of northeast England he knew like the back of his hand. Stalking him were 40 marksmen and police in choppers and 20 armoured cars.

Before setting off on his murder spree, Moat wrote on Facebook, “Lost my business. Kids to services. Gonna lose my home and lost my mrs of nearly 6 years to a copper. Like they havent f***ed my life enough over the years.”

Some have blamed the media for encouraging Moat’s copycat violence with irresponsible reporting. The media blames the police. Moat, described by psychologists as a paranoid narcissist, felt cheated by life itself.

Hollywood’s Rambo followed up his brutal debut with three pallid sequels. Real-life copycats have no such luck — surrounded by sharpshooters last week, Moat shot himself by a river.