When Neil Adamson met PC David Rathband, the brave officer shot and blinded by Raoul Moat, he could not halt his tears.
The detective who spearheaded the biggest manhunt in UK criminal history had just come face to face with the traffic officer in hospital shortly after the shootings.
In more than 20 years of service, Neil, now 54, had worked on many murder inquiries.
But nothing prepared him for the sight of PC Rathband in hospital, his face swollen, peppered with gunshot wounds suffered at point-blank range in his patrol car.
Moat was still on the loose and had just threatened police, saying: “I’ve just downed one of your officers. I’m not going to stop.”
Neil, head of Northumbria Police CID, found himself at the centre of the most challenging investigation of his life, recalling: “It was like being hit with a tsunami.”
But he knew David, and it is the memory of those devastating injuries – and his colleague’s bravery – which stays with him.
“I went with the Chief Constable to visit David in hospital,” he said in an interview to mark the 10th anniversary of the manhunt.
“He was in a terrible state. Sitting up in a chair at the side of his bed, his face was severely swollen and peppered with gunshot.
“He was rational, sensible, brave. He asked us to catch Raoul Moat. It was a tearful, moving experience, one I shall never forget.”
Neil led daily press conferences giving the latest on the search in the early days of 24-hour news, facing probing questions live in front of millions of viewers.
“Neil and I have known each since our school days. We were born and brought up in Beacon Lough, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. In later years, we went on holidays together with friends.
“So it was bizarre to be in the packed press conferences with Neil, a detective chief superintendent, watching him face the world’s media, and asking him questions in briefings.”
His experiences feature in ITV’s Manhunt: The Raoul Moat Story. Memories of the most stressful eight days of his life came flooding back during filming.
It all began in the early hours of July 3, 2010, with the cold-blooded murder of Chris Brown, 29. The karate instructor was seeing Moat’s former girlfriend Sam Stobbart, 22, who he also shot and wounded.
Moat, 37, had just been freed from prison for assaulting a child and Sam had ended their relationship – saying she was going out with a police officer in an effort to get Moat out of her life.
But he was intent on bloody revenge and made for her home, sitting beneath a window, listening to her talking to Chris.
“Moat was there for more than an hour,” recalls Neil. “He was texting his accomplice Karl Ness parked up nearby. Knowing Moat as she did, Sam expected a fight.
“Chris actually came out of the house with a metal bar in his hand, not for one moment expecting Moat to be right outside. It was a cowardly attack, Moat shooting him twice in the back as he walked out of the house.
“He shot him a third time from close range in the back of the head after he fell.” Moat had added small weights to the shotgun cartridges to cause maximum injury.
After the murder of Chris, described by Neil as the tragedy’s “forgotten victim”, Moat calmly walked up to the window where Sam was phoning police, shot her in the stomach, then ran. Ness was parked nearby but, on hearing the shots, drove off, leaving Moat.
Moat later met up with Ness and another accomplice Qhuram Awan. All three travelled around the area in Awan’s black Lexus.
Chris, who was not a police officer, had been caught up in Moat’s insane jealousy.
Before shooting PC Rathband, Moat used a pay-as-you-go phone to call the police and say that he was “hunting for officers now”.
“He parked on a slip road out of sight of PC Rathband,” said Neil. “He sneaked up and shot David twice in the face, jumped back in the Lexus and took off into Northumberland, leaving David in agony, saying ‘I’ve been shot’ as he cried out for help on the radio. A short while later Moat again called the police callously boasting of his actions.”
An unprecedented police operation followed, as Moat had the “means, capability and obvious intention” of killing officers.
Neil had the task of finding him. “At that stage, the threat was against police, not the public” he said. Firearms officers from across the UK were called, with experts, psychologists and even TV survival expert Ray Mears.
When Awan and Ness were caught on Tuesday July 7, Moat ran off near Rothbury, Northumberland – a county with nearly 2,000 sq miles of wilderness.
“The operation’s scale was huge,” Neil recalled. “Then Home Secretary Theresa May wanted updates. People underestimated the vast search area. I’m sure some thought ‘he is only hiding in some bushes, why can’t they find him?’ Moat made significant efforts to hide.
“Psychological advice was important. We had to be ready to confront him and were thinking ahead, deploying negotiators. Their advice was that unless he was specially trained in living without resources in the wild, the strain would play on him and he would come out. That is exactly what happened. He lasted until the Friday.”
At one stage, two bounty hunters from Sunderland were arrested. An armed operation was also carried out after helicopters picked up infrared of a body in a field. It was a sleeping drunk.
“We had 700 alleged sightings that week,” said Neil, a dad-of-two now retired after 30 years’ service. “There were reports from people who believed they had walked past Moat in Rothbury. Whether that’s true I don’t know – what we know now is we were right to stick with that search area.”
I spoke with Neil at the end of those long days to offer support. “It was really hard,” he says. “I had my wife worried about me being on telly with a gunman on the loose. She said ‘what if he comes after you?’ We had reports claiming he was seen in Newcastle, Berwick and even Spain.
“Some people told us their sheds had been broken into and ‘they were sure it was Moat’. The pressures of the day-to-day press conference built so much. The public and media started to doubt if Moat was in Rothbury, as our searching was proving fruitless. We had to hold our nerve.”
Two factors underpinned the operation, which involved hundreds of officers, army personnel and search experts.
There were no confirmed sightings of Moat and covert intelligence suggested he had not left the area after Awan and Ness – later jailed for a minimum of 20 years and 40 years respectively – were arrested in a swoop by armed officers. “Pressure from the media really built up,” said Neil. “But despite wanting to, I could not explain our covert intelligence.”
It ended with a call on the evening of July 9. A colleague said: ‘‘‘Boss, we’ve got him’. My first question was, ‘is it definitely him?’” said Neil. “They replied, ‘yes – he’s in a standoff with armed officers’. My second was, ‘where is he?’ My relief was huge when they said ‘Rothbury’.” A resident – who later got a £10,000 reward – calmly called to say: “The man you are looking for is at the bottom of the road.”
Armed police moved in. “The people of Rothbury were incredibly supportive,” added Neil. Memorably, footballer Paul Gascoigne turned up with a cooked chicken and fishing rod, to try and persuade Moat to hand himself in – but was asked to leave by officers. A Taser was used to try and avert Moat’s suicide and its inventor, Peter Boatman, later took his life after it emerged the firm supplied them to police while they were still being tested.
His business partner said the former police officer was “destroyed” by the furore.
During the final standoff, Moat told negotiators he did not want to spend the rest of his life in a cell. Neil said: “It’s why the Taser was deployed, in a bid to save his life.”
In the end, it was not enough, and Moat’s death closed the biggest manhunt in British criminal history. “The impact was felt way beyond that week – Chris murdered, Sam shot, PC Rathband shot and blinded and then he also took his own life,” says Neil.
“The burden of responsibility, the desire to protect the public, to not let anyone down or see anyone else get hurt, led to immense pressures for all involved. It is difficult to imagine a bigger operation of that kind.”