Tango 190, by PC David Rathband

Review published on April 16, 2012. Reviewed by Mike Stafford

Tango 190 is PC David Rathband’s deeply personal account of three key periods since his shooting at the hands of Raoul Moat.  Across punchy chapters divided, diary-style, into accounts of individual days, Rathband (working with ghost writer Tony Horne) tells of the bizarre and horrific week during which Raoul Moat was at large, of the immediate aftermath, and of the trial of Moat’s accomplices, Karl Ness and Qhuram Awan.

Judging by Tango 190’s ranking on Amazon at the time, I was not alone in being moved by Rathband’s tragic passing, and keen to do the man the courtesy of hearing his story untainted by the hand of the press.   Despite the very modern, unorthodox fame foisted upon him by an admiring British public, Tango 190 is no celebrity memoir.  Beneath the gushing blurbs on the dust jacket, provided by celebrity patrons of the Blue Lamp Foundation, between the covers is a book which is horrifying, poignant, tense, and frequently, despite the subject matter, amusing.

Tango 190, or to give it its full title, Tango 190: The Gateshead Shootings and the Hunt for Raoul Moat, begins on the 3rd of July 2010, the day on which Rathband’s final shift as a working traffic cop began.   By way of preamble, we hear that Moat and Rathband actually had “previous.”  As a two-bit crook, Moat frequently fell foul of police, and, in early 2009, was pulled over by Rathband on suspicion of scrap metal theft, and charged under the Road Traffic Act.  Even before their fateful meeting, Rathband describes Moat as an intimidating figure, repulsive and deeply disquieting.  With a frankness that marks the whole of the book, Rathband goes on to describe his shooting, and his Herculean struggle to stay alive long enough to call for assistance.   Banal though the comparison is, events are described with all the verve and urgency of a thriller, reaffirming a deserved admiration for PC Rathband.

It is not difficult to recall the events of the following week.  Ray Mears filling airtime for Sky News by handing out free advice to a man on the run, Northumbria Police struggling to keep control of a rabid media frenzy, and of course, Paul Gascoigne with his chicken livers and fishing rods.  While avoiding bitterness, Rathband reminds us that during that week, he was in intensive care fighting for his life; blinded, plagued by morphine hallucinations, and still under armed guard lest Moat return.  Rathband unassumingly but unwaveringly reminds us that the true story of that week was not a steroid-addled bouncer fleeing news choppers, but an innocent man killed, an innocent woman wounded, and a good man grievously injured.

The relationship that Rathband had with Moat continually comes to the fore.  Rathband speaks of the psychological effect of the attack, of Moat frequently visiting him in dreams, appearing in his hallucinations, and continuing to mark his life.  As he describes the ongoing removal of shotgun pellets from under his skin, Rathband makes one of many remarks that, given the tragic postscript to the book, are invested with added sadness –

“Whilst every removed bit of ammunition is a victory, I will go to my grave with Moat still inside me.”

While there were some imbeciles who sought to revere Moat as an anti-establishment, anti-hero figure (assuming they could grasp either concept), Rathband reminds us how wrong they were.  He quotes the transcript of Moat’s call to police, which showed him ultimately to be a paranoid loser with a grudge.  The demystification of Moat is augmented by Rathband’s description of the trial of his cronies, Ness and Awan.  While the climax of the trial, and by extension the book, is fraught with anxiety, several of Rathband’s paragraphs on it are genuinely funny.  Ness and Awan, now serving a combined sixty years for their collusion with Moat, shambled their way through their trial with a dismal defence, frequently tripping themselves up.  Awan, for example, claimed to be Moat’s hostage, not his accomplice.  When asked why, if he had just discovered his “captor” had killed a man, he strode into a shop and bought a chicken wrap, Awan replied – “I have a confession… I’m a comfort eater.”

There is an earthy, understated style to Tango 190 which smacks of a regular man thrust into an extraordinary and cruel situation.  Rathband describes his first impression of a colleague as that of a “jumped up little t____r,” and has similarly profane words to say about Paul Gascoigne.   His language and prose may not always be saintly, but in that he becomes more admirable.  The same can be said for his modesty.  In the months after his shooting, Rathband raised a six figure sum for his Blue Lamp Foundation, and as part of his work in that respect, was a regular fixture on the ubiquitous TV sofa. Hardly a word is said about this, however, and Rathband’s modesty is, much like Tango 190 itself, a fitting testament to that most adored of men – the everyday hero.

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