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Britain's "psycho commando" is hero to some

From screaming headlines to Facebook, the strange tale of Raoul Moat.

Armed police search the hills and moors near the village of Rothbury in northeast England for armed fugitive Rauol Moat. Moat killed himself while on the run. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

LONDON, U.K. – Hallmark doesn’t make cards for murderers who kill themselves while on the run from police but, following an unexpected outpouring sympathy for a man who briefly became Britain’s most-wanted criminal, perhaps it might change its mind.

Raoul Moat, a former nightclub doorman who shot his ex-girlfriend and killed her lover, emerged as an unexpected folk hero this week as Facebook groups named in his honor became forums for fury — not at his crime wave, but for what many perceive as his persecution by police, media and society.

And as hands were wrung over the rights and wrongs of pitying a killer, Moat was unwittingly promoted to a cause célèbre of free speech when Prime Minister David Cameron aired his own concerns and backed calls for the social networking site to pull the tribute pages.

“As far as I can see, it is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer — full stop, end of story — and I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man,” Cameron told lawmakers during his weekly Q&A session in parliament.

Two weeks ago, virtually no one outside a small community in northeast England had heard of Moat, newly freed from prison after serving an 18-week sentence for assault. Within days of his release, every detail of his life was being picked over.

Moat’s crime wave was short but shocking. On July 3, two days after his release, the 37-year-old confronted his ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart, shooting and killing her new lover Chris Brown. Moat then shot Stobbart twice in the stomach, leaving her in critical condition.

A day later, Moat — who apparently had mistakenly been led to believe Brown was a police officer — attacked a police patrol car, shooting and badly wounding its occupant.

If he had turned himself in or been swiftly captured, Moat’s actions were unlikely to have earned much notoriety. Instead Moat went to ground, shaving his hair Mohican-style and capitalizing on Rambo-inspired survival skills to thwart efforts to find him.

In the news vacuum of a hot British summer, certain stories tend to expand to fill the space. Moat’s manhunt, reportedly the country’s largest for decades, fit the bill perfectly.

The tabloid Sun newspaper called him a steroid-pumped “psycho commando” who could “live of the land for weeks.” Rolling news channels drafted in survival experts to tramp through nearby woodlands and show their audience how they too could catch and eat rabbits.

As police, backed by SAS Special Forces and at one point a Royal Air Force fighter jet, eventually closed in on their quarry, the surrealism of the operation was further enhanced by the arrival of former England soccer World Cup star Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne.

An apparently inebriated Gazza, who has faced a much-publicized battle with alcoholism since bursting into tears on-pitch during the 1990 World Cup semi-finals, later told a local radio station he had brought “Moatie” a can of beer and some chicken, claiming he could talk him into surrendering.

There was no surrender. After a six-hour standoff, a single gunshot was heard as Moat apparently turned his weapon on himself.

But his story was far from over.