The Raoul Moat Manhunt 04.08.11

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A manhunt is a strange kind of landscape. But a kind of landscape it is, nevertheless. When Raoul Moat pulled the trigger of his sawn-off shotgun in July, killing Chris Brown and shooting ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart in the stomach, it exploded a space in which the largest manhunt in modern British history was acted out. Inside this zone, constellations of disparate objects, people, buildings, landscapes and actions become fleetingly associated. The meanings and uses of everyday life are alchemised by the desperate, intense, traumatic, psychopathic and paranoid scenario into sites of improvised potential. A manhunt transforms familiar landscapes into unstable terrains where the spatial narratives of escape and capture are played out.

From the outside, the narrative of a manhunt is organised around a void. Its central figure is, of course, absent. So as Moat's story unfolded he would only fleetingly appear in it. Fragments of activity, objects and traces of occupation – a hold-up in a fish and chip shop; an abandoned tent; smoke from a camp fire; rambling multipage letters; a get-well-soon card sent to Stobbart's hospital bed; an abandoned Lexus; discarded mobile phones. Clues as to his movements, of course, but also a trail that criminal psychologists used to extrapolate backwards in order to construct the desperate psychic crisis of the hunted.

Meanwhile 200 police officers from 15 forces were mobilised. Armed response vehicles and armoured anti-terrorist vehicles arrived from Northern Ireland. An RAF Tornado jet with heat-seeking technology took to the air at dusk when officers believed Moat might look for food or water. All of this equipment and all of these people set into tragic circulation.

Moat was eventually cornered by a riverbank after apparently crawling out of the storm drain that he had been hiding in. He was surrounded by police and holding a shotgun to his neck. Media in turn surrounded this scene. Rolling coverage showed us telescopic shots zoomed in on the negotiation team and patched us in to phone calls from locals describing what they could see. A photographer managed to get a shot of Moat prone on the grass. The siege came to us live in that strange kind of coverage where fragments of information, partial images and a total lack of real news content is swamped by an intense emotional feeling of something significant happening. The Northumberland summer's evening seemed almost tangible. As with other stories of human tragedy, the media constructs a narrative of intimate proximity that we can't help but imaginatively inhabit.

The strangeness that haunts dramatic news events became more surreal with the arrival of Paul Gascoigne with an offer to help negotiate. Given Gazza's own well-documented psychological issues, he was perhaps more easily drawn into the media narrative than most. Claiming to be an old friend of Moat's, he told Tyneside's Metro Radio: "I just want to give him some therapy and say. 'Come on Moaty, it's Gazza'."

Gazza had arrived in a taxi armed with an improvised negotiating kit: a dressing gown, a can of lager, some chicken, a fishing rod and a mobile phone. If we were to read this scenario in the context of say, Reyner Banham's essay The Great Gizmo, this collection of things – taxi, troubled former footballer, fried food, layabout clothing and cheap booze, all at the perimeter of a fatal siege – forms an exquisitely curated state-of-culture collection. For Banham the catalogue of readily available consumer products were an inventory of the possible – an instant architecture where technology and products could liberate potential. His image of the Western pioneer in the wilderness with a Sears Roebuck catalogue and a pending order for a stove was a positivist thesis where urban design merges with the product design of gizmos and gadgets.

Gazza's emergency assemblage of readily available things unpack, like Banham's, into architectural conditions as symbols of leisure, comfort and good times. In this context, Gazza's objects tell a tale of abject tragedy rather than positivity – futile to the point that they could not be delivered by one tragic figure to another.

In Moat's murder, manhunt, siege and suicide we might see a projection of an interior psychology onto landscapes and objects. Within this psychosis, murder isn't just an act but a universe whose gravity drags other worlds into it. The moment Moat squeezed the trigger, whole registers of meaning shifted and continued to shift until the source of the narrative – somewhere deep in Moat's mind – was somehow contained. Scaled up and projected in space, then magnified by media, his psychic state becomes a terrain that we all, for a moment at least, occupy. This is the strange phenomenon of the manhunt landscape. Buried deep within this experience is the frightening suggestion that this might not be an abnormal condition – that all space might not be an empirical product of geography but of psychology. The only question is: Whose psychosis are we living in?

 

Image

News Of The World/Ni Syndication

 

Words

Sam Jacob

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A manhunt transforms familiar landscapes into unstable terrains where the spatial narratives of escape and capture are played out

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