In the summer of 2010, a week-long manhunt took the nation by storm. Raoul Moat, a 37-year-old man from Newcastle, was released from Durham Prison and within two days had shot three people with a sawn-off shot gun.
His ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart was hospitalised, her partner Chris Brown was killed, and police officer David Rathband was permanently blinded (subsequently taking his own life). Moat went on the run for six days after the shootings, eventually being located in Rothbury, Northumberland.
Police officers negotiated with Moat for almost six hours. Ex-England footballer Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne, who knew Moat from his time working as a bouncer in Newcastle, turned up trying to persuade the fugitive to step down. He didn’t. Moat shot himself.
The traumatic and often bizarre incident provoked a host of mixed reactions about Moat. Were any mental health issues to blame? What drove him to such acts? Could he be a victim in any of this?
Andrew Hankinson explores these questions in his book You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat). Using Moat’s own writing and words, Hankinson goes inside the mind of the killer to unravel the circumstances of that summer’s fatal events.
I spoke to him about the process of writing such a unique book.
Hi Andrew. Thanks for talking to me about your book. Could you tell me how you come to write a novel about Raoul Moat?
I was looking for something to write about in a New Journalism kind of way when Raoul Moat went on his shooting spree. That happened in the summer of 2010. I did some research and realised I could uncover new information about this public event, and I thought it had prompted a lot of debate about free will, determinism, sympathy, detachment and accountability.
You use Moat’s own writing and recorded material to form your book. Why did you choose that narrative route?
It’s not very often that a murderer leaves behind so much written and recorded material, some of which was made after he had shot three people. It seems quite unusual to me.
What effect did reading Moat’s words have on you? Were you able to leave it behind at the end of the writing day?
He made me angry, especially when I was in the courtroom and saw what he did in the form of Chris Brown’s relatives, PC David Rathband and Samantha Stobbart. To listen to what he said and read what he wrote, knowing what he went on to do, it makes you realise how alien other people’s thoughts are.
But it was journalism for me – sifting through material and writing it up. The effect, I hope, is on the reader.
A review in The Guardian said your narrative style “takes [the reader] inside the killer’s head without giving the reader the privilege of distance in which to judge and dismiss him”. Do you agree, and does that mean the reader sympathises with Moat more?
There was a lot of sympathy for Moat in 2010, including from the liberal point of view, and I wanted to see to what degree that was justified, so I pushed hard in both directions of the argument.
I think Louis Theroux, who kindly read my book, put it well, describing it as an experiment in empathy and an exploration of the limits of empathy. The reader has to go through this whole life and then decide: at what point do you not think he was responsible for his actions?
You can hear more from Andrew and this fascinating book at Berwick Literary Festival. He’ll be in conversation with Bea Davenport at Guildhall at 2pm on Saturday 21 October. Tickets £5.
I’ll be blogging at the Berwick Literary Festival from 20-23 October. Come and join me if you can.