After a week-long manhunt in the wilds of Northumbria, involving the RAF, search and rescue teams, Met police firearms officers and armoured cars sent over by the PSNI, Raoul Moat is dead.
What has interested me most during this whole sorry saga of guns and testosterone is the differing attitudes of sections of the British public towards this man.
There are some who appear to see Moat as a sort of folk hero (almost in the Harry Roberts mold) because he had a grudge against the police, acted on it, and managed to evade them for so long – although if the press blackout on Moat’s communications had been lifted sooner some of this group may possibly have changed their view on that…
There are others who are sympathetic to Moat’s actions because he had “issues” and clearly needed help. Ex-footballer Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne, who has publicly battled his own demons, appears to have been one of this group, turning up in Rothbury last night with a dressing gown, a can of lager and a fishing rod in order to ‘save’ his pal ‘Moaty’.
When contacted on holiday abroad, Gazza’s manager Kenny Shepherd perfectly encapsulated most people’s bemusement at this peculiar turn of events with this astonished comment:
“He’s doing what? I am sitting having an evening meal in Majorca. I’m speechless.”
Moat needed help all right, that in itself was obvious from his behaviour over the last weeks. It is disturbing, however, that he did not get the help he needed before things got to this point – it was very clear that the violence, aggression and paranoia he was exhibiting on his release from prison had been a part of his psychological make-up for some time and that the authorities were aware of this. Many media reports stated that he had been using steroids, a drug believed to cause or exacerbate aggression in users; something that can’t have helped the situation any.
However, what those who are attempting (even subconsciously) to justify Moat’s actions don’t seem to grasp is that this whole sequence of events need not have ever happened.
Moat was no hero, he was a violent, abusive man who deserves no adulation – and the authorities deserve little praise either, because they could have stopped this happening in the first place.
As with many individuals who are abusive to their partners, the warning signs were all there in Moat’s behaviour – it’s just that no-one in a position to help chose to pick up on them. And, sadly, this is not uncommon.
For example, police were warned by the prison services that he posed a risk to his ex-girlfriend when he was released from jail at the beginning of July.
Nothing was done.
Surely every incident of domestic violence (or threat thereof) should be a priority for the police, or am I simply naïve in thinking this?
From her statements during the manhunt, it is clear that Moat’s ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbard had – understandably – been frightened by his violent behaviour for some time, yet she was given no official warning of his threats against her. Any threat such as this, against anybody in this sort of position (and especially when the threat comes from a man with a history of convictions for violence) should instantly be prioritized by the police.
By not doing so in this incident, two people are in hospital and two people (including Moat) are dead.
The evidence was there – it must have been for the prison service to warn the police about him in the first place. Personally, it was his much quoted Facebook status and the 49-page letter sent to police that really set alarm bells ringing for me – particularly the lines:
“I never cheated on her, I wish she hadn’t on me. She pulled the trigger by doing so just as much as me”
These words are a textbook example of an abuser’s self-justification for their behaviour – instead of taking responsibility for doing wrong, it’s easier just to blame the victim. To Moat, it was Sam’s fault she got shot, she had forced his hand.
Samantha Stoddard is by no means the only person to be assaulted (or worse) by a violent partner or ex-partner after warnings have been given to the authorities and seemingly ignored. Most of the time stories like hers do not demand any media attention, let alone the kind of high-profile, hysterical and prurient coverage given to this particular case. Domestic violence, in all its many and horrific forms, is still frighteningly common and under-reported in the UK.
All of this makes domestic violence, in the words of the information and support website of the same name, truly a ‘Hidden Hurt’. Although official and legal attitudes have changed over time and the number of excellent organisations who help survivors of domestic violence has increased, there are still too many cases of individuals not being believed or taken seriously by the authorities when they try to stop the abuse.
If a police force, as in this case, ignores evidence of threats from a man like Raoul Moat, passed on to them by the prison service (ffs), they are going to have to work bloody hard to get victims and survivors to believe they will actually be understood and assisted when they attempt to seek help from the authorities….