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An army bomb squad turned up to The Auction Centre in Runcorn, Cheshire, to remove a First World War German stick grenade which was part of a private collection to be offered on October 28.

In the same week, Friday 13th proved a very unlucky day for Angus Ashworth and his team at Ryedale Auctioneers in North Yorkshire, when a police response to an alarm raised by a phone call triggered off what he called “an absolute farce”.

The Auction Centre had alerted the police after spotting the item on Tuesday (October 10), and the grenade was taken away for safe disposal – again on the 13th.

The Liverpool Echo reported Auction Centre director Michael Bain as saying: “We’ve had some drama. We had a stick grenade which was consigned to auction and our expert examined it and became suspicious and said ‘we want to have this examined’.”

Heavy cost

However, the disruption at Ryedale was far more serious, and not only forced two sales to be postponed but could also end up costing the saleroom “£6000-7000” which will probably not be covered by insurance.

It was due to hold the Crown Spindle Mill militaria collection sale on Sunday, October 15, which includes nearly 600 lots in 266 lots and is mainly First World War but with some 1939-45 items.

Following what Ashworth believes from the police to have been a phone call from someone in Essex who had viewed the sale online and raised the alarm after feeling that items were potentially unsafe, officers turned up at the pre-sale viewing on the Friday.

A police cordon, the bomb squad and the army in attendance for much of the weekend was the result, with, it seems, two Stokes mortar bombs with red bands (denoting high explosive) the main issue. Ashworth unscrewed the tops to show that these were empty, but he says the police then shifted their attention to something that caused even more problems.

“It then went from the safety aspect to whether it was a heritage crime,” says Ashworth. “An act in around 2003 came in making it illegal to remove items from a heritage site.” [Thought to be the National Heritage Act 2002, an updating of a 1983 act.]

He adds that he made his views known that "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".

His vendor’s house ended up being searched and anything with military connection taken away, including photos of his grandfather, and over six hours of questioning followed. Ashworth says the vendor collected the items 20-30 years ago.

The result of all this was not only the postponement of two sales, cost implications and huge disruption, but no charges being brought against either vendor or auction house.

One item was removed from Ryedale for safety reasons: the fuse of an artillery shell. "When they X-rayed it they could not tell whether was live or not, so they took it away," adds Ashworth.

Sale date changes

Although his outdoor sale did take place on the Sunday amid the chaos, the railway and toys auction and the Crown Spindle Mill Collection sale have been rearranged for Sunday, October 29. The former is at 11am and the latter at 3pm that day.

While Ashworth acknowledges the current climate means that caution is inevitable, he is upset the phone caller did not contact him initially over the concerns and went straight to police.

For a start, Ashworth has extensive experience himself in such militaria.

“I did nine years in the reserve forces of the Yorkshire regiment,” he says. “Although I was infantry, I was also an advanced assault pioneer, so basically I was trained a bit like an engineer, and I did all demolitions - although I didn’t defuse bombs, I made them, I did mine clearance and all that kind of thing, so I’m familiar with ordnance, and what is stable and what is not.”

His role then included service in Afghanistan and Iraq, but one of his current positions in the North Yorkshire town of Kirkbymoorside, where Ryedale is based, could lead to some debate, given the bomb alert.

“It should have been a phone call or email to us to say ’is everything safe’ and I could have said we’ve checked it all, not a ‘full lock-the-whole-town-down’ – it’s going to be an interesting at the council meeting tonight, as I’m the mayor…”