Vital chances to catch gunman Raoul Moat missed

Image caption Armed police have searched across a range of terrain for Moat

As the vast police operation to apprehend gunman Raoul Moat continues into its seventh day, the importance of acting quickly on intelligence from the public has become increasingly clear.

The operation being led by Northumbria Police has been unique in its difficulties.

In the fields around the small rural town of Rothbury, Northumberland, a significant percentage of the armed capability of the police in England and Northern Ireland has been deployed.

But at times the search operation has seemed to lack direction as the leads have started to dry up.

On Thursday Detective Chief Superintendent Neil Adamson, from Northumbria Police, expressed his frustration at not catching Moat yet. He said: "I am disappointed that we haven't located Mr Moat yet and I'm sure all of the public hold that view."

The terrain the armed search teams are having to deal with includes open moorlands, thick forests and dark ravines. And in the hills are also hidden caves and tunnels.

Image caption This CCTV image of Moat was only released six days after it was recorded

The police deployment includes riflemen armed with long-range weapons colloquially known as sniper rifles.

But arguably the police have missed vital intelligence opportunities.

On 2 July, police received a warning from Durham prison that Moat planned to harm his ex-girlfriend.

He is thought to have shot 22-year-old Samantha Stobbart twice and shot dead her new partner Chris Brown, 29, outside a house in Birtley, Gateshead on Saturday.

He is also wanted for the shooting of Pc David Rathband, 42, in Newcastle on Sunday.

Moat was recorded on CCTV in a Newcastle shop on Friday - the day before Miss Stobbart and Mr Brown were shot - but these images were only released as police reissued an appeal for help from the public on Thursday.

In another missed opportunity, Moat visited a friend at 2330 BST on Saturday to deliver a letter but that friend was not kept under surveillance so that when Moat returned to deliver a second letter the police were not there.

And an armed robbery at a fish and chip shop in Seaton Delaval, near Blyth, on Monday night was not formally linked to the hunt for Moat until Wednesday.

Image caption A robbery at this fish shop on Monday was connected to Moat two days later

Police only released details of Moat's getaway car, a black Lexus, on Tuesday morning and they got an immediate response. Rothbury resident Isabelle Wilson noticed the car while walking her dogs and contacted the police after hearing their appeal.

That led to the search for Moat focussing on Rothbury, yet police were slow to respond to a farmer's report of smoke from what turned out to be the gunman's campsite.

Then on Tuesday night a house was broken into. Armed police responded and checked the property but did not keep watch over it afterwards and it was later broken into again.

This time it appeared somebody had slept in the spare bed. The family are too scared to return.

No police operation is perfect but in this case the early opportunities missed may lead to a long, drawn-out manhunt.

It is starting to dawn on everyone that although the police may get a breakthrough and find Moat in the next day or two, they equally may not and the Northumbria Police chief constable has accepted that it is possible it could be several weeks or even months before they find him.