Explosion at St Albans farm after WWI and WWII munitions seized

Police and Bomb Disposal teams

Police and Bomb Disposal teams - Credit: Archant

Bomb experts from the Army are this afternoon carrying out an explosion on a farm in St Albans, following the arrest of a man alleged to have stolen heritage artefacts and munitions through illegal metal detecting.

Bomb Disposal Team on site

Bomb Disposal Team on site - Credit: Archant

A 48 year old man was arrested at 8am today, and a number of items believed to be First and Second World War artefacts and munitions have been seized from an address in Windmill Ave following the execution of a search warrant.

The man is currently in police custody for questioning.

Artefacts and munitions seized today include: hand grenades, rifles, mortar shells, flare guns, hand guns and ammunition.

A spokeswoman for Herts Police said it is a criminal offence to retrieve artefacts from the ground through using a metal detector if the land is a protected site, or without permission of the landowner.

St Albans Chief Inspector Ken Townsend said: “This seizure is on an unprecedented scale and it will be a long process. It is an extremely large collection. Although the items seized today are potentially dangerous, there is no danger to members of the public.

“We have all the necessary experts in place to deal safely with the items recovered. The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team will be carrying out controlled detonations this afternoon [at about 4pm].

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“This will be heard in the local area, and residents need not be alarmed.”

Mark Harrison, national policing and crime advisor for English Heritage, said: “The practice of illegal metal detecting or stealing artefacts from the ground, particularly from conflict sites relating to the First and Second World Wars, is an issue that English Heritage takes very seriously.

“We recognise that the majority of the metal detecting community comply with the laws and regulations relating to the discovery and recovery of objects from the land.

“This is the first time that a coordinated partnership involving the military, police investigators, finds experts, archaeologists and prosecutors have been used to tackle this form of alleged criminal activity.”

Heritage crime is any offence which targets the historic environment - such as famous natural landmarks, cathedrals and ancient battlefields, and cultural property, such as pieces of art, jade and rhino horn.

Offences have been more prevalent in recent years due to the economic downturn as criminals have turned their attention to metal theft and the illegal trade of assets.

Putting right damage caused to heritage assets can lead to repair bills of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

In April this year, the police launched “Heritage Watch” – a scheme which aims to protect the county’s thousands of historical sites, monuments and artefacts from heritage and cultural property crime.

The public can sign up to become members via: www.herts.police.uk/HeritageWatch

Members will receive regular updates about issues or crimes at heritage sites in their local areas. They will also be signed up to Neighbourhood Watch’s OWL (Online Watch Link) system which will keep them up to date with crimes and police events happening close to where they live.