St Albans man sentenced after bomb squad raided home and found ‘personal WW1 museum’

Bomb Disposal Team on site

Bomb Disposal Team on site - Credit: Archant

A St Albans military memorabilia collector at the centre of a very public police raid two years ago has been told in court that there was “nothing wrong” with his hobby.

Bomb Disposal Team on site

Bomb Disposal Team on site - Credit: Archant

Alan Tissington, 50, caused a major alert when the police believed he had a munitions store of bombs, hand grenades, artillery shells and bullets in his home.

He had converted a small garage near his home in Windmill Avenue into a museum that also displayed World War One and Two gas masks, rifles, military uniforms and flags.

After a tip-off, the police raided the three-bedroom semi-detached home on September 17, 2014.

St Albans Crown Court heard today (Thursday) that the London firefighter was arrested and neighbouring homes were evacuated.

Police and Bomb Disposal teams

Police and Bomb Disposal teams - Credit: Archant

Sniffer dogs and army disposal robots searched his home. Army bomb disposal experts seized explosive artefacts and blew them up in a nearby farmer’s field at Sandridge.

Tissington, who built up his war memorabilia collection from the age of seven, made purchases on eBay and at military fairs and made discoveries while metal detecting in the UK and on Europe’s battlefields.

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At the time of his arrest he wrote on Facebook that he was ‘devastated’ that his life’s work had been destroyed.

Prosecutor John Upton said the police stopped Tissington in his car at 8am on the morning of the raid. He told them he did metal detecting, but had no live ammunition or weapons in his home.

Police and Bomb Disposal teams

Police and Bomb Disposal teams - Credit: Archant

Mr Upton said: “An officer was so concerned at what he saw in the garage, that a cordon was set up and four neighbouring homes were evacuated for safety.”

Over the next two days Ordnance Explosive teams blew up items.

However, Mr Upton said, it was a “matter of regret that the record of what was destroyed was not adequate to allow the crown not to proceed on a number of counts.”

Judge Jonathan Carroll replied: “Public safety should come first, but the police should have had some sort of procedure so proper charging decisions could be made.”

Tissington pleaded guilty to three charges of possessing ammunition without a certificate and three of possessing prohibited ammunition. Other charges were left on the file or had not guilty verdicts entered.

The items he admitted illegally possessing were six rounds of .45 calibre ammunition from 1942, a round of .222 ammunition from the 1950s or 60s, a single round of US carbine ammunition from 1943 and three prohibited bullet heads.

Defending, Nicholas Doherty said the crown had ‘over-egged’ the case.

He said: “There was nothing dangerous in the museum. It was in his family home. He was not going to put his family and his neighbours in danger. He is one of the best known collectors of military artefacts in the country.

“His museum was arranged to a high, semi-professional standard. It had good security and was alarmed, and smaller items were in locked cases fixed to the wall.”

He said that Tissington, who had been suspended on full pay by the London Fire Brigade, was a decent, law-abiding man who last year received a certificate from the Royal Humane Society for saving a man’s life when he collapsed at a car boot sale.

Tissington is a member of ‘Extreme Relic Hunters’ who travel to World War Two battlefields and find dog tags of dead soldiers and contact their relatives. He and his group also clean war memorials and servicemen’s graves.

Mr Doherty said: “He has perhaps been over-enthusiastic or not careful enough. He had no intention to keep live ammunition.”

Judge Jonathan Carroll told him that his case was unusual and exceptional, with most people facing sentence for these, receiving an immediate custodial term.

He told him: “From a very early age you have been an avid collector of military memorabilia. You are of some repute and have created a museum, which was secure and alarmed.

“I accept you had no criminal intent and you never intended to possess live weapons or ammunition.

“There is nothing wrong with your hobby in itself. It is clear from the way you pursue your hobby, you have done nothing wrong. However you shouldn’t have had these items. It was your duty to ensure you should not have had them.”

The judge made a 12-month Community Order with conditions that Tissington carries out 150 hours’ unpaid work and pay £1,500 prosecution costs.