Jul 20th 2010

The Moat 'Execution': The Reason of Force

by Binoy Kampmark

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge and history lecturer at the University of Queensland

It all seems grim. Some called it an execution by police forces. But the debate on Raoul Moat continues to rage. Britain's most wanted man has become something of a poster boy of sickened violence, responsible for having shot his former girlfriend Samantha Stobbart in the stomach, killing her boyfriend Chris Brown and shooting PC David Rathband full in the face. After what was a six-hour standoff, Moat, so the authorities have asserted, died by his own hand in Rothbury, having placed his sawn-off shotgun to his guard and neck before pulling the trigger at the early hours of the morning.

The case is becoming more clouded over time. The Northumbria police claim that two shots from stun guns were used on Moat before he took his own life. The Moat family is requesting a second independent post-mortem examination, citing that the official report makes no mention of injuries that might have been sustained from Tasers supposedly used by the police. League tables in the UK featuring the number of times a taser is used by police forces place Northumbria police at a less than honourable top, more so than the Metropolitan forces. Then there is the pre-existing record of Moat's illness that the police were aware of - information from Durham prison which revealed that he might have posed a possible danger to his partner Stobbart.

The debate about such figures, those who kill and kill themselves, is one of endless speculation. Hagiography springs out of the ashes. Victomology can enshroud the killer who perished at the hands of heartless authorities who could have done more. There are, it seems, villains everywhere in narratives that deal with such death. Only the dead should be revered. But that Moat was unwell is hard to question.

His brother Angus expressed understandable rage, and has called the killing something akin to a public execution. 'I'm defending him, because I think I will defend him - I love him, he's my brother - but he's a bête noir as well. I accept that what he did was wrong, but I would rather have seen an outcome where he was arrested and sentenced and treated accordingly, rather than an execution on a hillside.' Indeed, there is evidence, however slim, that Moat might himself been rehabilitated, or at the very least sought help.

Moat certainly did want some form of psychiatric help. In the words uttered in to a social worker in August 2009, 'I would have to have, erm, a psychiatrist, psychologist, have a word with me regularly, on a regular basis to see if there's somewhere underlying like where I have problem that I haven't seen' (Guardian, Jul 15). Moat made it clear he wanted 'a professional, you know, not a DIY thing you know? A professional thing for someone to come along and say look there's area for improvement here. There is a problem.'

The digital age has also made its presence felt - Facebook hosted a site featuring a virtual fan club, termed 'RIP Raoul Moat you Legend'. The number of gushing contributions exceeded 30,000. His brother, despite his grief, felt that there was little time to be spent on the idea that his brother might have been an 'anti-establishment' figure, a dark hero (Guardian, Jul 17). The site has been removed. But sentiment remains high. Violence, notably from a figure who never professes to innocence, tickles and evokes sympathy.

Questions remain on how the Northumbria police might have responded better to this. Had they done so, Moat might well be alive today. When force on such a scale is used, either actually or symbolically, the room for conciliation and therapy shrinks. In this case, the options seemed to vanish the longer the stand-off went. The reason of force, rather than the force of reason, was what eventually prevailed.

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