On paper, I can see the superficial appeal of the Raoul Moat story for the work-hungry screenwriter who knows ITV is vastly more interested in true crime than it is, say, in the lives of working women (you may have heard that the channel has not recommissioned Maternal, its peppy drama about female hospital doctors, a decision that has infuriated its fans). Moat murdered one person and maimed two others before going on the run in Northumberland in the summer of 2010, and surreal details of those strange, sad days linger in the mind even now: his “friend” Gazza (the footballer, Paul Gascoigne) begging to be allowed to deliver a chicken dinner to him; the deployment by the police of the survivalist Ray Mears to track him in the woods; above all, the horrifying way he became, among a certain section of the public, a kind of folk hero.
But still, I don’t know how The Hunt for Raoul Moat got beyond a first meeting. Sure, the producers and Kevin Sampson, its writer, have had a go at spraying the air freshener around. This clock-ticking drama, they suggest, involves weighty issues: domestic violence, toxic masculinity, mistrust of the police, the place of the internet in a post-truth world. In the closing credits, they tell us that the“RIP Raoul Moat You Legend” Facebook page had 30,000 followers until it was taken down, and that two women a week in the UK are killed by a (male) partner.
In the end, though, there’s no disguising what they’ve done. The families of Chris Brown, whom Moat shot dead with a sawn-off shotgun, and David Rathband, the police officer he blinded with the same weapon (Rathband took his own life 20 months later), are reportedly distressed it has been made, and I don’t blame them. Their pain has been put to one side, and for what? This is a middling series with a middling cast that tells a story whose ending we already know.
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Neither Gascoigne nor Mears appear on screen, which I guess is something (how quickly it would have tipped into grotesque farce if they had); the focus of the series is deliberately tight. Here are Moat, his victims, a reporter from the Newcastle Chronicle, and the police (Lee Ingleby is Neil Adamson, the officer leading the hunt). When it opens, Moat (Matt Stokoe) is in HMP Durham, completing a sentence for assault. A scene inside the nick, in which his ex-partner Samantha Stobbart (Sally Messham) visits to tell him she has a new boyfriend (that man was Chris Brown, played in the series by Josef Davies) is brilliantly done: the two actors give us all of his colossal self-pity and rage, and all of her consequent terror, without ever leaving their plastic chairs. But once Moat is out, and settling his grudges, nuance is sacrificed in favour of pace. This is telly, after all.
Of course I was sickened by what follows. By Rathband’s bloody eyes. By Moat’s accomplice, Karl Ness (who drove him from Newcastle, scene of the shootings, to Rothbury, where Moat finally killed himself) cockily explaining that his pal had at one point chosen not to kill again because “he wanted to finish his McFlurry”. By the moment when Stobbart, recovering in hospital from her injuries, opens a get-well-soon card from Moat. But I don’t regard this as any kind of accomplishment on the part of the programme makers. I was sickened in 2010 as the story unfolded on the news, and I was sickened in 2016, when I read Andrew Hankinson’s book You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You are Raoul Moat]. Why would I be anything else?
No one is going to change their minds about these events now, least of all the rank misogynists who praised “Moaty” online; who said they hoped they’d be “brave” enough to do the same themselves if they were “jilted” by a woman. Why, then, pay him any attention at all? What is there to say, really? He is dead. His accomplices, Ness and Qhuram Awan, are serving life sentences. The bereaved are trying to get on with their lives. I wonder more and more why television is hell bent on grave-digging like this. What about the imagination? Whatever happened to just making stuff up?
The Hunt for Raoul Moat
ITV, 16 April, 9pm;
available on catch-up
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This article appears in the 19 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Axis of Autocrats