Shell shock! Bomb squad race to Sidmouth auctioneers

Rusty munition fell out of box of house clearance goods

BOMB squad specialists raced to a Sidmouth auction house after staff feared they’d made an explosive discovery dating back to the Battle of Britain.

Workers at Potburys called in the emergency services when what appeared to be a Spitfire shell fell out of a box of house clearance goods.

A crack team of Royal Navy experts, skilled in dismantling incendiary devices, rushed to the Temple Street premises from Plymouth after police suspected the artillery could be live - but were at the scene for less than a minute last Friday afternoon.

“It was a false alarm and turned out to be an old ornamental artillery shell,” said Brinley Roberts, Potburys auction manager of eight years.

“I can’t remember the last time something like this happened here.

“It was only small, four of five inches long. No one panicked. We thought it was ok, but you can’t take any chances. We saw it on the floor of a lorry when we got back from a house clearance. It was quite old and rusty, rifle shaped, and looked intact – we didn’t know what was inside.

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“We moved it to a side room round the back. You never know with these sorts of things, and there was nowhere safe and proper to dispose of it, so we called the police.”

Officers then contacted the Royal Navy but it was business as usual for staff at the auctioneers, who continued to work while they waited for experts to arrive.

“The bomb squad were here for 30 seconds,” added Brinley.

“They looked at it, picked it up, and took it away.”

A police spokesperson said an officer attended the scene at 12.10pm and that the six inch shell, believed to be ammunition, was “possibly a live round” so the bomb disposal team was called.

A Royal Navy spokesman said the shell was inert.

“We don’t know of its origins,” he added.