Saturday, September 26, 2020

Trio receive jail sentences for dumping WWII mustard gas bombs in a Lincolnshire lake

A trio of wartime memorabilia hunters have received jail sentences for dumping WWII mustard gas bombs in a Lincolnshire lake – making them the first in the country to be sentenced for possession of a chemical weapon.

Martyn Tasker was jailed for 5 years for possession of firearms, plus 16 months’ concurrent sentence for possession of a chemical weapon. His wife Michaela Tasker and friend Stuart Holmes were both handed a 12-month jail sentence suspended for two years for possession of a chemical weapon.

They all pleaded guilty to breaching environmental laws by dumping hazardous material in the lake in addition to the chemical weapons charge.

Holmes also pleaded guilty to dumping a substance likely to harm human health or pollute the environment.

High Court Judge the Honourable Mr Justice Jeremy Baker in Nottingham Crown Court, on Friday, passed sentence on the joint prosecution by the Environment Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service.

During sentencing, he highlighted that the trio’s acts had “huge and wide-ranging consequences,” sparking the largest multi-agency response of its kind – and the situation only came to light when two of the three sought medical help for burns and trouble breathing.

The court heard that in September 2017, the Taskers came across wartime memorabilia in Roughton Woods, near Woodhall Spa – land which was historically requisitioned by the MoD for military training – and dug up a half-buried box of mustard gas bombs.

They messaged a friend who used to repair weapons in the Territorial Army to ask what they’d found, but didn’t get an immediate identification.

Ten days later, the pair returned with Mr Holmes and uncovered a total of 16 canisters and three earthenware bottles.

One bottle was prised open – exposing what Mr Tasker called “really smelly oil” inside – before his friend texted, confirmed the containers were full of mustard gas, and advised alerting the authorities.

But Holmes had already poured the three bottles of mustard gas onto the ground so he could take the empty bottles home with him, along with 10 unopened canisters. The group left the other six canisters, but didn’t report their find – despite knowing what a dangerous substance they’d uncovered.

Later that day, they decided to dump the canisters in Stixwould Lake, where Holmes worked. They secretly took a dinghy, rowed out into the lake, and left the containers to sink to the bottom, before burning their clothes.

The next day, Martyn Tasker sought treatment for blisters on his forearms and soon after, Michaela Tasker was treated for breathing difficulties.

Only then did the pair alert the police – but they lied about the circumstances and still didn’t tell officers about the bombs they dumped in the lake.

But it wasn’t long until inconsistencies emerged from their stories and all three were arrested.

Authorities then launched a major operation to secure the woods, lake, and suspects’ homes, and to recover the hazardous chemical.

In what has since been hailed the biggest operation of its kind, Lincolnshire Police led more than two dozen organisations including the Environment Agency, emergency services, and the Army, in an 11-day response.

It saw roads closed, drones deployed, safety cordons put in place, and at least one home evacuated while teams worked around the clock to tackle the tactical challenges of safely removing the bombs from the lake while keeping themselves, and nearby residents, safe.

Environment Agency sonar equipment usually used for fish surveys finally determined the bombs’ location in the lake before Royal Navy divers were sent in to safely retrieve them.

The bombs were immediately transferred to the specialist defence science and technology lab in Porton Down. There, testing confirmed that the containers were still sealed and had not leaked.

Everyone involved risked exposure and nasty side effects including burns, blisters, respiratory damage, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Following the sentencing, Ben Thornely, Incident Management Lead at the Environment Agency, said: “Mustard gas is extremely toxic, so dumping it in a lake near people’s homes and in a popular woodland enjoyed by Scouts and dog-walkers was appallingly dangerous.

“Luckily the old, corroded containers didn’t leak and were safely disposed of by professionals who showed bravery, ingenuity and collaboration to keep people safe.

“This incident was entirely unique, so it’s satisfying the judge recognised the grave threat posed and we hope this sentence sends a clear message – we won’t hesitate to take action against those who so carelessly put people and our precious environment at risk.”

Chief Inspector Phil Vickers, of Lincolnshire Police, said: “This operation challenged the emergency services, military and partner agencies in ways that we have never experienced in Lincolnshire before – in fact some of the issues had never been faced anywhere before.

“The operation was testament to the planning and preparation that goes on behind the scenes to protect our communities in times of need, and whilst that has meant flooding and extreme weather in the past, the same principles applied when faced with this new challenge.

“Bringing together 27 agencies to protect the community of Woodhall Spa and surrounding area was no mean feat – everyone pulled together and we witnessed bravery from our military, insight from our specialist advisors, ingenuity from the Environment Agency and commitment from all involved.

“This was truly a successful multi-agency team effort – we achieved our aim of protecting the community from harm, and used our wide range of skills and experience to do so.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the partners who worked on ‘Operation Saddleback’ in the initial response and then into the recovery stage led by East Lindsey District Council – Most of all I would like to thank the local community for their patience and support throughout.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our news site - please take a moment to read this important message:

As you know, our aim is to bring you, the reader, an editorially led news site and magazine but journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them.

With the Covid-19 lockdown having a major impact on our industry as a whole, the advertising revenues we normally receive, which helps us cover the cost of our journalists and this website, have been drastically affected.

As such we need your help. If you can support our news sites/magazines with either a small donation of even £1, or a subscription to our magazine, which costs just £27.55 per year, (inc p&P and mailed direct to your door) your generosity will help us weather the storm and continue in our quest to deliver quality journalism.

As a subscriber, you will have unlimited access to our web site and magazine. You'll also be offered VIP invitations to our events, preferential rates to all our awards and get access to exclusive newsletters and content.

Just click here to subscribe and in the meantime may I wish you the very best.

Advertisment








Latest posts

Lincs businesses encouraged to access toolkit to ensure COVID compliance

Lincolnshire businesses are being encouraged to access a toolkit with all the information and guidance required to ensure they are COVID compliant. Put together by...

Hangar refurbished to create simulator facility at RAF Waddington

Henry Brothers Midlands has completed the refurbishment of a hangar at RAF Waddington to convert it into a joint training facility, on behalf of...

Charity CEO calls for support for young people’s mental health amidst pandemic

Emma Egging, CEO of Jon Egging Trust (JET), is calling for more support for young people as they navigate the unprecedented times of the...

Pubs and restaurants restricted to 10pm closing time under new rules

Pubs, bars and restaurants in England will be required to close from 10pm from Thursday under new rules to combat the rise of coronavirus. The...

Social housing provider buys Lincolnshire training company

Lincolnshire-based training company Riverside Training has been acquired by social housing provider Acis Group. Acis Group, which owns and manages more than 7,000 homes across...

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close