02/11/2017
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Bomb chaos at auction houses

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A WWI stick grenade up for auction at The Auction Centre in Runcorn, Chester, triggered a bomb scare, requiring the Royal Logistic Corps Bomb Disposal unit to attend.

The problem started when the German stick grenade, part of a private collection that was due to be sold on 28 October, was examined by the in-house expert who commented, “We want to have this examined.” The bomb disposal unit were called and the stick grenade was made safe with a controlled explosion.

More disruption was caused by ordnance at Ryedale Auctioneers in North Yorkshire, but this had more serious implications, causing two sales to be postponed, potentially costing the auction house upwards of £6,000. The sale in question was the Crown Spindle Mill militaria collection, which was mainly WWI with some WWII items, and was due to be held on 15 October. A buyer in Essex viewed the items online and called the Police, believing they were unsafe. Officers duly turned up at the preview day on Friday, 13 October with the result that the Army and Bomb Disposal unit were summoned. The Police cordoned off the auction, cancelling the sale, while investigating two Stokes mortar bombs with red bands (that signify high explosives). Auction house owner, Angus Ashworth, who is also the Mayor of Kirkbymoorside, unscrewed the tops of the mortars to show that they were empty. However, this didn’t satisfy the Police, as Angus explained, “It then went from the safety aspect to whether it was a heritage crime. An act in around 2003 came in making it illegal to remove items from a heritage site.” The National Heritage Act 2002, an updating of a 1983 act, was introduced to prohibit looting of archaeological sites. Angus added, “This is ludicrous, this stuff comes up all the time. You’re opening a can of worms because you have to go through the whole country anytime something like this comes up at sale." As any militaria fair visitor will know, relic-condition items are offered all the time.

The result was a complete over reaction by the Police, leading to the house of the owner of the items being searched. All the vendor’s militaria, which he had collected over a 30-year period, and photos of his grandfather, were taken away for examination. The vendor was then questioned for over six hours.

The only item to end up being removed from the sale was the fuse of an artillery shell, which was X-rayed. As the bomb squad still couldn’t tell whether it was live, they took it away as a precaution. The vendor and the auction house were not charged and all other items were eventually returned.

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